If Leo hadn't come into the closet looking for worship, he didn't know how long he might have sat in there holding Justin's abandoned Halloween costume. Still hearing his partner's words: "Because we've become them." At first he'd chalked it up to Justin being upset about the attack. Getting egged on Halloween would piss anybody off. He was pissed as well. And he'd been scared to death that Gus or Justin would be hurt. Asshole kids. But now he realized that it was more than the attack. More than this attack, at least. He was sure Justin was thinking about having been attacked at the Institute earlier in the week and, maybe he'd thought about being bashed as well. All of it was probably going through his mind. It was certainly racing through Brian's.

Leo stood on his back legs and pawed at Brian's knee, reminding him of his unfulfilled duties. "All right," he said and began scratching the cat's ears to Leo's immediate—and vocal—delight. So Leo was pleased; he was the only one. Giving him a couple more ear tugs, Brian got up and put away Justin's costume. It was time to leave the closet.

But he didn't go in search of his spouse. He knew Justin, knew that he was probably in his studio, sitting at his drafting table. Even if he wasn't actively drawing sometimes just sitting in front of the table had a way of calming him. Brian understood that well. Justin's drawing table was like his riverside bench, a place where he could calm down enough to think about a situation instead of just reacting emotionally to it. Despite the hurtful things Justin had said to him, he knew that he hadn't really meant them, he was just angry at the world and lashing out at the nearest warm body at hand. He also knew that Justin was probably regretting what he'd said but hadn't figured out a way to apologize. He understood that as well. Sometimes it was hardest talking to the person you were closest to. Rational or not, there was always the fear of saying something wrong, saying the wrong thing, the one thing that would drive him away, even though you knew that you could never drive him away. He knew that, Justin knew it, but still the fear remained.

Having delayed dinner for trick or treating, Brian decided it was now time to eat. Justin had made turkey meatloaf yesterday and very few comfort foods ranked higher than meatloaf in Brian's book. He sliced a chunk from the loaf and nuked it before sandwiching it between two pieces of rye bread. Food and drink in hand, he plopped down in front of the TV and watched CNN while he ate. Nothing much had changed since that morning: they were still at war, the economy was still on the skids, and Bush was still an idiot. God, he hated him. More than ever now that he was the direct cause of his and Justin's present tensions. Bad enough he'd fucked up the country without him fucking up their marriage. But, of course, that asshole didn't even believe that gays could be married—but that was another grievance better left for another day. Right now he had to figure out what to do about Justin. He sighed. It seemed as if he was always sitting around wondering how to resolve some issue that had come up between them. Then he laughed. Fuck, that's what kept things interesting, he supposed. Otherwise they'd be a pair of boring, blissfully happy fags. Brian smiled. He was blissfully happy, even though he and Justin fought like Jacob and the angel at least once a week. And like Jacob and his adversary, they were both on the same side. Just had to figure out what was the best way to proceed.

Justin looked down and saw Leo staring up at him. "Hey, you hungry?" The cat meowed softly. "Didn't Brian feed you?" Leo meowed again and started towards the door and stopped, looked back to see if Justin was coming. "All right." Abandoning his perch, Justin followed the cat into the family room. Saw Brian sitting on the sofa watching the news. An empty plate and a half-full beer bottle sat in front of him on the coffee table. So he had eaten.

Having heard Justin's footsteps, Brian looked up and around as he crossed the room and disappeared into the kitchen. They hadn't made eye contact once.

After giving Leo a hand full of food, he saw to his own dinner. Eschewing any bread, Justin heated a slice of meatloaf in the microwave and fixed a small salad. Sat at the island and ate with the Icebox flipscreen television on. He wasn't in the mood to deal with Brian, not yet. He knew that Brian probably thought he was behaving childishly and maybe he was. He didn't care. He was tired of feeling hemmed in and constrained by Brian's needs, Brian's wants, Brian's demands. Why did everything have to go his way all the time? Whatever Brian wanted, he did even if it went against his own desires. And why? Why was he always expected to cave? Well, not this time. This time he would do what he wanted. He'd go back to school and do something. What, he didn't know yet but he'd figure that out later. And if Brian came around begging, well, fuck him. He was not giving in, not anymore.

Justin hadn't come back out of the kitchen so he was probably in there eating and watching TV, and seething. Maybe it was time for them to talk. Not used to being the one who did the approaching, Brian was grateful to have his dirty plate as an excuse to enter hostile territory. Clutching it and his empty beer bottle like a white flag, he sauntered into the kitchen (Just be calm, be calm.) and went about putting the plate into the dishwasher and dropping his bottle into the recycling. He glanced at Justin as he passed by. "Hey."

As long as Brian understood that things weren't resolved between them, Justin figured there was no harm in speaking. "Hey." He focused again on his meal.

So he wasn't ready to talk. Still… Brian started to say something, then bit his lip and left. There was no point in getting into another argument.

Listening to him go, Justin laid down his fork, appetite banished.

It was strange, preparing for bed alone. He supposed Justin was still in his studio. He hadn't stirred when Brian had gone around checking the doors and if he'd come up while Brian was in the shower, he'd gone again by the time he'd come out. Hoping that Justin would appear before he got into bed, Brian messed about in the closet, going through his clothes and setting aside the dry cleaning even though he could do that any time during the weekend. Finally he became aware of Justin entering their suite.

He'd heard the shower running earlier when he'd come up and had beat a hasty retreat. He hadn't been ready to confront Brian in that setting. His resolve, tenuous at best, might have crumbled under such an assault. Even now he hoped that Brian had put on something. He hated it sometimes, the effect Brian had on him: the way his body responded to his husband even as his mind wanted to resist. Pretending that he didn't notice Brian in the closet, Justin hurried into the bathroom to take care of necessities and prayed that Brian would get into bed ahead of him.

As he came out of the closet, he glimpsed Justin rushing into the bathroom and grinned grimly. If his little boy wanted to play games, then play they would. Brian walked over to the bed and fussed with his alarm clock. Not that he intended to set it—he had nowhere to be tomorrow, planned on sleeping in and lazing about all day—but he needed an excuse to still be up and about when Justin returned.

Preparations completed, Justin walked into the main part of their suite just in time to see Brian untie his robe and slip it from his body. He got goosebumps just from seeing the black silk cascade over Brian's shoulders and down his back like liquid mercury. He watched, unable to tear his eyes away, as Brian slung the flimsy garment over the foot of the bed, turning towards him in the process so that Justin could see him more clearly: the wide nipples, lean torso, flat belly, and long legs. So that Justin could appreciate the raspberry lips, the swanlike neck, and the heavy genitals. Their eyes met and Justin could discern the humor in Brian's gaze. His cheeks reddened. The sonofabitch knew what he was doing to him, had planned it that way. Angrily, Justin retreated to the closet, breathing slightly elevated from anger or excitement, he did not know, did not care. With jerky movements, he stripped, then walked boldly out into the bedroom as naked as Brian now was. Two could play at that game.

Brian had stretched out on the comforter, eyes barely opened, lids partially lowered. In an instant they widened. Like a hungry predator he watched as Justin walked towards the bed, pale skin glowing faintly golden in the lamplight. As had Brian, Justin fiddled with his clock, setting his as he did intend to get up early to work but, more importantly, it gave Brian the opportunity to gaze upon his ass as he stood with his back to his husband.

Brian's nostrils flared slightly and he could feel his cock stirring. Little asshole. Don't fucking think about that, he told himself. Don't think about his ass. Of course, it was too late, the moment he told himself not to think about it, he was obviously thinking about it. And it really didn't matter as his cock had already taken matters in hand and didn't really give a flying fuck who gave in first, it just wanted some blond boy ass to sink into and it wanted it now.

He knew what Brian was thinking, knew what the man wanted, hell, he wanted it too. Wanted to crawl into bed and fuck until the morning came. But he couldn't. He would not, no matter how much he wanted to give in, he wouldn't. Throwing back the covers, Justin slipped beneath them and turned away from Brian. Reached up and turned off his bedside lamp.

For a moment he thought about just getting up and going away but that would be too fucking easy and he didn't do easy. So he turned off his lamp as well. The room was plunged into darkness. Then he got under the covers and laid as close to Justin as he could without touching him. See how long his little boy could resist him.

Justin could feel the heat emanating from Brian's body. He knew that if he turned over he'd more than likely find himself lying right up against his husband, thighs brushing against thighs, cock teasing cock. His dick twitched at the thought and he willed it to be still. There'd be none of that tonight.

He'd been sure that Justin would give in and turn over and beg him to fuck him, after all he was only about two seconds away from begging himself. But Justin had said nothing, hadn't even moved. Glaring, Brian turned onto his side, away from his spouse, and tightened his jaw. It was going to be a long, fucking night.

And a long, fucking weekend. Saturday came and Justin was still giving him the cold shoulder. Bad enough that he didn't get any early morning nookie but it looked as if he wasn't getting breakfast either. Justin got up, showered and dressed, and went downstairs without saying a word. When Brian finally dragged himself from bed, he found the house empty and Leo nibbling away at a bowl full of food. There wasn't even any coffee. Brian grumbled, "At least you got something to eat." Putting his complaints aside, Brian went about fixing breakfast for himself and wondering what he could do about the situation that had developed. It was obvious that Justin was beyond pissed with him. In a way, he didn't blame him but he also knew that he hadn't had much of a choice either. Only he was by no means certain he could convince Justin of that and he had to if he didn't want to spend the rest of the weekend in the dog house. Or longer. Justin's temper had a way of lingering way beyond the initial infraction, ebbing and surging in response to Brian's actions whether Brian was aware of it or not. Most often he was clueless. What a pair they made.

Not wanting to stay home, Brian cast about in his mind for someplace to go. Lindsay's was out. No way was he going there and explaining his and Justin's latest blow-up. That meant Deb's was out too. And the guys were off-limits as well, they'd only rag him mercilessly about his Drama Princess. Guess that left either his mom's or someplace outside his normal stomping grounds.

He found himself in a photography gallery he'd passed one day in the Jeep on his way to work. It featured contemporary works by local artists. As he walked through the space, almost empty of visitors, he imagined his own photographs hanging on its walls. Smiled. He was no artist. At best he was a dabbler, a dilettante. He did enjoy taking pictures but he had no pretensions as to their artistic merit.

A cool blonde who reminded him a little of Lindsay—except that her wardrobe had progressed beyond the thrift store stage—walked over as he was examining a riverscape in hues of blue and said, "Reminds me a little of 'Nocturne in Blue and Silver.' "

Brian looked her over then gave a little smile. "Whistler," he said, his smile widening as he saw a look of surprise came over her.

"You know something about art."

"My husband's an art student. I help with his quizzes."

To her credit, she didn't miss a beat. "Is he with you today?"


"Is this for one of his assignments?" she inquired.

"Me being here? No. Photography's a hobby of mine."

She reached into a virtually invisible pocket in her skirt and pulled out a business card, handed it to him. "Maybe we'd be interested."

He slipped it into his jacket. "Maybe when I'm better."

Giving him the once-over as she departed, she said over her shoulder, "I think you're damn near perfect already."

Brian laughed softly then shook his head. If only his better half thought so.

The back end of the Cherokee came into view as he pulled into the yard. Which meant there was a pretty good chance Justin was home. He wondered what kind of reception he'd receive. Not wanting to give the impression that he was stalling, Brian hopped out of the car as soon as he parked and went inside.

Justin looked up from the counter. Brian was home. Time for round two.

So the Boy Wonder had decided to cook. He was busy chopping vegetables for something. Cookbook propped up next to him. Brian wandered over and peeked at the page. Minestrone. He noticed the way Justin pulled away from him. Anger washed over him like a heat flash and he stormed from the room. Fuck him.

Watching him stomp away, Justin felt a moment's remorse. He hated when they fought and hated it even more when they didn't talk to one another but there was nothing to say. Brian thought he was right and he knew that he was right and there was no middle ground, no compromising possible. He had given into Brian's demands once and look where it had gotten him. Nowhere. Now he would do things his way and Brian would either deal or not. Of course, he hadn't bothered to tell Brian any of this. If he were to be truthful with himself, he would admit that it was because he didn't want to engage in another confrontation with the man. Brian had a way of getting him to do what he'd sworn he wouldn't do. This time he had to hold to his resolution and the only way to do that was to stay away from Brian, not give him the opportunity to change his mind. But, God, he missed him.

Last night had been nearly impossible. More than once he'd wanted to turn over and take Brian in his arms and make love to him but that was the one thing he couldn't have done. Of course, he'd awakened with a morning hard-on that had only subsided in the shower, and then only because he'd turned on the cold water and gritted his teeth while the icy needles pelted him. His erection had shrank almost immediately, his balls drawing up behind the shaft in an effort to protect themselves. He'd gone into the closet and dressed in record time and escaped before Brian could get up and subject him once again to the sight of his naked body.

And still the image had haunted him in his studio. All day he'd done little more than sketch drawing after drawing of his lover. Even now he could see Brian lying supine on the bed, ruddy cock nestled between his slender thighs. Christ.

Why he let that little fucker get to him, he didn't know. But Justin had always had the uncanny ability to push all of his buttons, the good and the bad. If he could just stop thinking about his porcelain skin and perfectly shaped ass he would be all right. But he couldn't. All day, no matter where he'd gone, he'd seen Justin's silhouette in his mind: the rounded head, shoulders, and behind. Fuck, he wanted him. And he would have him too. Putting aside his anger, Brian returned to the kitchen. Without giving Justin time enough to reject him, he grabbed him by the arm and kissed him hard. Felt Justin resist for a split second before giving in to the desire that had gripped him as firmly as Brian had. Backing Justin up against the counter, Brian reached for the hem of his shirt when the younger man pushed him away.


Breathing heavily, Brian had difficulty speaking at first. "No?"

"No." Justin put some distance between them. "I don't want this."

Brian glanced down at the bulge in his lover's pants. "That says otherwise."

"Leave me alone."

Ignoring Justin's command, Brian took a step towards him.

"I said leave me alone and I mean it."

Hazel eyes met steely blue ones. There was no give in Justin's gaze. Brian pressed his lips into a thin, hard line before spitting out, "Fuck you." Then, like a whirlwind, he was gone.

They did not speak to one another for the rest of the day. Brian didn't bother to eat once the minestrone was done. Didn't bother to come to bed once the evening had passed. Sliding under the covers alone, Justin regretted his earlier actions but there seemed to be no way to undo the damage that had been done. He couldn't give into Brian, not on this.

Brian stripped and got into bed. The guest bed in the guest room. Molly's room. Figured he'd have nightmares about tea parties and riding ponies and whatever else it was that prepubescent girls dreamt about. Just as long as he didn't dream about Justin. About making love to Justin. Shoving the thought from his mind, he closed his eyes. Only nine hours until dawn.

She wasn't surprised to see him, only surprised that it'd taken him so long to come around. Then again, that shouldn't have surprised her either, as it was his habit. She'd called on Sunday to let Gus talk to his daddies and gotten the distinct impression that things were a little chilly between the two men. Guess she hadn't been wrong. As was also his habit, Brian dawdled around the door for a moment before coming in. "I was just about to eat," Lindsay told him. "You're in luck. I only had one morning class today."

"I remembered."

Pecking him on the cheek, she went to check on lunch: clam chowder that she'd made last night. "You roaming the city in search of food?"

He made himself at home in his chair, slinging his coat over the back first. "Advice," he replied.

"About what?"

Brian waited until she'd returned before answering. "How do you do it?"

"Do what?"

"Keep from kicking Mel's ass even when she deserves it."

Lindz grinned. "Well… usually I think about what you would have done in her place and most of the time whatever she's done doesn't seem half as bad in comparison." When he didn't laugh or give her the finger, she asked, "What's wrong?"

"Well, Justin and I haven't said ten words to each other since Friday."

"Why not?"

He only took a couple spoonfuls of soup despite the fact that he was rather hungry. "We had a fight."

"About?" As usual, getting him to talk was like getting Gus to calm down in a toy store.

"Justin thinks he's failed himself because that kid left the Institute."

"The one who was being harassed." Justin had told her about the student, told her the Diversity Council was investigating.

"And he blames me for his having failed." He sat fairly hunched over in the seat. "And it is my fault. I talked him into giving up the investigation."

Lindsay had seen the bruise around Justin's eye and the one by his mouth on Halloween. Now she put two and two together. "You had good reason."

"But now he hates me."

"He doesn’t hate you." Leave it to Brian to take things to their illogical conclusion.

"Because he's afraid to. But he would, if he'd only let himself." He seemed to shrink. "Maybe he should."

"Bri… Give him time."

"He says we've become like them, like straight people. Says we've sold out." Brian shook his head and laughed. "And we have." Sniffed. "I worry more about the fuckin' mortgage than I do about being discriminated against. After all, everybody loves us, right? There's 'Queer Eye for the Straight Guy' and 'Will & Grace'. Everybody loves faggots." Laughed again. "Faggots. When I heard them yell that out, at first I thought, Who the hell are they talking about?"

"You're being too hard on yourself."

"How am I supposed to protect them? Protect Justin and Gus?" He sighed and blinked a couple of times rapidly. "Justin's mad as hell with me because I didn't want to see him get hurt. What am I supposed to do? Pretend my stomach doesn't knot up every time I think about him lying in that fuckin' parking garage?" He shut his eyes. "I've fought all my life just to survive." Opened them, the hazel so dark his eyes looked black.

She knew he was probably thinking about Jack Kinney and how hard he'd struggled to escape from that house, to escape his upbringing, to be something, someone better than life in that hellhole had taught him to be. Even when she'd met him in college, there'd been a few rough edges left that still needed smoothing and she'd helped. Once she'd gotten past his defenses.

"I just… I want to rest, Lindsay. I'm tired of fighting," he confessed.

"Justin's angry now but he understands why you wanted him to stop. He knows it's only because you love him."

"But how can I love him, if I'm asking him to change?" Brian stared at her, waiting for an answer. He needed an answer.

"You can't change him," she said, "and you can't protect him from the world. You can only be there for him when he needs you. I look at Gus sometimes and I wonder if I'll be able to let go of him. But I'll have to. If I want him to grow, to mature. In some ways, Justin's still growing, still finding himself. And you have to let him." Then added, knowing it was at the root of his fears, "No matter how scared you are of losing him."

Met at the door by Leo, Brian petted the cat for a while before going in search of his spouse. Found him in his studio, staring out at the back yard, at the riot of color that was the very last hurrah before winter. Not that he could see much of anything now that the sun had gone down.

Loathe to disturb him, Brian, nevertheless, pushed open the French doors. At the sound, Justin turned. Just having those intense, blue eyes focused on him chased his thoughts away. With difficulty, Brian remembered why he'd come into the studio. "I thought," he said softly, "that we could go out to dinner tonight."

Justin glanced away. He couldn't believe that Brian thought everything was fine again. That they could go without talking for days and then suddenly take in dinner and a movie. "I'm not in the mood."

"Oh." He started to shut the door again when all the anger and frustration he'd been feeling for three days overcame him. But instead of shutting down, he spoke up. "You know, maybe we should give away all of our earthly possessions, and move to India, live among the lepers."

Genuinely confused, Justin asked, "What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means how long are you planning on punishing me for being successful? For giving you what you said you wanted? This house, this life."

"That isn't the point," Justin mumbled.

"Then you tell me what is." Shutting the door firmly, Brian came into the studio and stood next to his husband.

Justin started to stand but Brian caught hold of his arm and pushed him back into his seat.

"Talk to me. Yell at me, scream at me, curse me, I don't care. Just don't goddamn ignore me like I'm the Invisible fucking Man."

His first impulse was to get up and walk away, fighting Brian if he had to. But he didn't want to fight Brian, physically or otherwise. What he wanted was to curl up in his arms and forget the world existed. Only the world wouldn't go away, it was right there, in their home, in their bed, in the space between them as they stood at the sink and shaved, as they watched one another from across the gulf that suddenly yawned between them.

Brian's muscles relaxed; he'd been tensed for a confrontation and, now, now he just wanted to sit at Justin's feet and not think about anything except the color of his lover's eyes at twilight: stormy, entrancing. Softly, he asked, "Was I wrong to want to protect you?"

Justin shook his head. "No."

"To want you to be safe?"

"You weren't wrong." He reached for Brian's hand. "I want to be safe. I want… I want us to have all the things we deserve. I love our home, I love our life. I shouldn't have said what I did."

"But you meant it." Brian held Justin's hand, fingers lightly brushing over his skin. "I don't want to change you." The muscles in his jaw tensed. "I fell in love with you because you were a fighter…because you didn't take shit from anybody… you were tough but you cared." He looked down at the floor, not wanting to meet Justin's blue eyes. "I just don't want to lose you."

"You won't." Justin stood and embraced him. "I promise."

"But you can't," he said. Almost unconsciously, he pushed aside a lock of Justin's hair, exposing the scar on his forehead.

"Bri…" He didn't want Brian to worry about him but he didn't want to be smothered either.

A smile flickered across his lips. "I guess if you survived that, you can survive anything."

Justin spread his fingers over Brian's cheek, loving the feel of his soft beard. "I love you."

"Love you too."

"Then why don't you kiss me?" It was a repeat performance of Saturday afternoon, only this time, there was no pulling away by either of them until they were forced to take a breath. After they parted, Justin smiled and said, "I'm hungry. You still wanna go out?"

"You buying?" joked Brian.

"I’m buying."

He gave a sickly grin, visions of greasy pizza turning his stomach. "Hmm, maybe I'd better pick up the tab, that way we can actually eat someplace decent."

Shoving Brian aside, Justin sped into the house laughing as his husband came running behind him. Brian chased him up the stairs, catching him only as they entered their suite. Swinging him up in his arms, he tossed Justin onto the bed, then fell straightway into a dream. Immediately, Justin crawled on top of him and kissed him soundly.

"I thought we were going out to dinner," said Brian.

"It's been too long," replied Justin. In no time at all, he had Brian's clothes off and was in the process of stripping himself when his partner decided to take matters into his own hands and pushed Justin down and dragged off his jeans.

He crawled between his legs, pausing with his head over Justin's groin. There, beneath his chin, was Justin's dick, nestled in a pair of snug, white briefs. Brian enjoyed teasing Justin about his tighty whities but he loved them just as well. Loved the way they cradled his cock, its outline visible against the soft, cotton material. Gently, he closed his teeth around the head of Justin's penis. Even through a layer of cloth, he could still feel it throb. Encouraged by its response, he continued to ply the head and shaft until saliva wet the front of Justin's briefs and they clung to his skin.

Wanting to taste said skin, Brian pulled Justin's underwear down and off, lifting them up over his cock. It sprung free and hovered over his belly. In an instant, Brian was on it, licking the neck, tongue searching out creases and crevices. He sucked the bump just beneath the head until Justin cried, "Oh! Oh, God…" Precum bubbled and spilled. Brian held the shaft upright and went down on him, lips forming a tight seal as his tongue lashed Justin's cock head.

Justin's feet dug into the comforter and his tongue peeked from between his lips. It felt so good, so good… All he wanted was to scream, was to shout, was to yell. He gripped Brian's shoulders and held on while his husband blew him, head bobbing over his groin as he went up and down the rigid shaft. Justin grimaced and gasped, "I'm—I'm—"

Brian released him for a moment, then sucked him back inside.

"Brian! Brian…" Justin's thigh muscles jumped and he took a series of shallow breaths. "Oohh…" he moaned and ran his fingers through his hair. "Ah!" He jerked and cum splashed the back of Brian's mouth. "Yes. Yes. Yes." His head lolled on his pillow as his hips pumped upwards. He could feel Brian's hands beneath his buttocks, gripping his ass as he drank his jizz. "Yes…"

Brian lapped the last of Justin's spunk from his cock, then kissed the head in hopes of coaxing a few more drops from the source. His own dick was so hard, he was afraid to fuck Justin for fear of hurting him. He wanted him so badly, wanted to plow his tight ass until it gaped open. Turning him over, he parted his legs roughly. Reached for the lube. Slathered it on his dick and then squirted some between Justin's cheeks. Using two fingers, he massaged it onto and around his hole; into it as well, one finger sliding inside, quickly followed by the other. Pulling them free, he stretched out over Justin, supporting himself on his hands. Pillowed his cock between Justin's plump buttocks. Rubbed his dick up and down the crevice until he was mad with desire. He reached down and gripped his cock, positioned it against Justin's hole, and pushed.

His vision fractured into a kaleidoscope. With a jagged sigh, he submerged himself in Justin's warmth.

After their last conversation, the Dean hadn't expected to see Justin back in his office so quickly. The young man had been visibly shaken and understandably so. But, even though he hadn't expected Justin back so soon, he had expected him back. Everything he knew about Taylor-Kinney had led him to believe so. He remembered Chris Hobbs' trial, remembered reading the news accounts, and yet Justin had returned to school and not only kept his head above water, he'd surpassed expectations. Definitely one of the Institute's success stories. "What can I do for you?"

"I was wrong to give up," he said quite simply.

"What do you proposed to do?"

"I think we need to smoke out the people who threatened Thomas. And who attacked me."


"By forcing them to eat their own words." He couldn't take credit for the idea, it had been Brian's actually. "The Institute could have a Diversity Week or something like that: hold workshops, discussions, performances, exhibitions… All around the theme of diversity. The whole school could get involved."

The Dean tented his fingers, thought for a moment. Declared, "That's an excellent idea."

"My husband's."

"Advertising, right?"

"Right." Justin smiled, pleased that the Dean had remembered Brian.

"You know," said the Dean, "we've been trying to think of ways to unify the different divisions of the Institute." And it wouldn't hurt to have a showcase week to sell to potential contributors. "I'll talk with the President and the other division heads and get back to the Council. I assume that the Council will be taking a leading role in this Diversity Week?"

"Ah, of course," he replied. Just as soon as he told the other members of the Council.

With the tensions of the past two weeks behind him, to be able to dance without a care at Babylon seemed the sweetest reward. Even watching Brian fend off yet another unwanted suitor couldn't dampen his spirits. He just laughed and tugged on Brian's shirt, pulling him towards him. Mine, the gesture said. Hands off.

Brian smirked and lowered his head. "Does this mean you want to take me home tonight?"

"And every night," replied Justin.

With a gentle kiss, Brian said, "Deal."

"God, they're sickeningly cute," Ted commented as the two of them walked back to the bar.

"Aren't they though?" Em twirled the swizzle stick in his drink between his fingers like a pro. Sighed. He wished he had someone to be sickeningly cute with.

Ted sighed inwardly. So did he.

"Beam. Single," Brian added. To Justin, "We'll share." It was a weeknight, after all, and both of them had to be alert in the morning. Brian had a partner's meeting and Justin had class which meant no cracked heads allowed. "Where's Mikey?"

Emmett waved towards to the upper dance floor. "Last time I looked, some guy had snagged him."

"Of course," added Ted, "Michael felt duty-bound to tell him he was in a relationship."

"Whatever." Brian sipped his drink.

"That's not what you told that guy who was trying to pick you up," Justin pointed out.

"Nope. I told him I was married," Brian said with a grin. "That's different."

"Bigger ball and chain," Ted joked.

"Biggest," Brian concurred.

"So," began Em, "Thanksgiving is coming soon. We having dinner over at your place or is it family only?"

Aware that the guys still felt slighted about not being asked to Gus' birthday party, Justin said, "You are family."

"You're just not family with fuckin' kids," Brian sniped, tired of them complaining about the imagined slight.

"Unless you count Mikey," Ted joked and all was right again.

"Count me as what?" the person in question asked as he pushed his way to the bar.

"A fourth at bridge," quipped Brian. Passing Justin the shot of Beam, Brian rubbed his temples.

"You okay?"


Justin massaged his shoulder. "Ready to go home?"

"Not unless you are."

The Beam felt good going down but not as good as Brian would feel nestled in his throat. "I'm ready."

"God," complained Mikey, "what are you trying to do? Win 'Married Couple of the Year'?"

Em finished his drink. "When you've got someone to hit the hay with, why not go home?" He glanced at the pickings on the dance floor. "Slim but… what the hell? Toodle loo." And he waved and waded into the throng.

Saying their good-byes as well, the Kinney/Taylor-Kinney contingency vacated the premises for cozier environs. In the car, Justin curled up against Brian and waited for the heat to come on. Or not.

It had come on by the time they reached the house. Needlessly. Still, it was enough to fortify them on their brief sojourn from the Jeep to the kitchen door. Once inside, they leaned against the wall and kissed, energy restored. Separating to check the doors and set the alarms, they met at the front staircase and kissed again, softly for a moment, then climbed the spiral steps to the second floor.

Not tired anymore despite having played for a half hour, they sat up and talked for a while, hoping sleep would creep up on them.

"So, are we inviting your dad for Thanksgiving?"

"Why wouldn't we?"

"Because he's not used to being around a bunch of faggots."

Justin winced. "You don't have to put it like that." Even though he was mostly inured to Brian's bluntness, still it sometimes caught him off-guard.

"It's true."

"He was around us at my graduation," Justin reminded him.

"Years ago," countered Brian. Then he added, "Fuck, I can't believe how long ago that was." And even then Craig had managed to almost ruin everything with his attack on Brian, blaming him for Justin's bashing. Brian thought he'd forgive almost anything of Craig but that.

"He'll come and he’ll behave," promised Justin, knowing Brian had to be thinking about what an asshole Craig had been at Justin's graduation party. "Besides, Gus is really fond of him."

"Gus is fond of eating clay. I don't exactly trust his taste."

Sliding a leg over Brian's body, Justin purred, "Do it for me?" When Brian didn't answer, he climbed astride him and kissed his way up his neck. "Please?" Kissed his lips. "Please?"

Brian relented. "What's Thanksgiving without our resident homophobe?"

Justin jostled Brian. "He's not a homophobe."

"If the cross fits… burn it."

Laughing, Justin slid off Brian and laid on his back. "You're too much." Traced a vein in Brian's forearm with the tip of his finger. "You'll help me cook?"

"You've got my mom, your mom, Deb, Emmett, and Vic. You don't need my help."

Justin corrected one of his assumptions. "My mom's going to my grandmother's house."

Brian frowned, recalled a conversation they'd had last year. "Shit. We told her we'd go with her this year and take Gus, didn't we?"

"She's probably forgotten."

"Your mom?" Jenn had a memory like fuckin' Dumbo. Brian scratched his neck. "Think she'd buy it if we promised to do it next year?"

"What else can she do?"

"Do you want to go with her this year?"

"I want to be with my family."

"We could ask Lindsay and Melanie if we could take him but…"

Thanksgiving was less than four weeks away. "Kinda late to ask."


"I bet Gus would like it though." Justin's face brightened.

"Once again, Gus likes eating clay. His expectations are sorta low."

"My grandmother would love him. Love you too."

He grimaced. "I'm not into old ladies."

Slapping Brian's arm lightly, Justin snorted. "You are so nasty."

"But I taste so good."

Settling down, Justin told him, "Go to sleep." The heart was willing but the body was exhausted.

Stealing a last kiss, Brian turned over and waited for Justin and Leo to take their places: Justin at his back and Leo curled next to the edge of the bed.

Xavier paused by a poster tacked on the wall near their studios. Half-turned towards Justin who was walking with him and Rennie. "This your doing?"

"Diversity Council."

"Which means you," said Rennie.

According to the poster, the Institute was going to hold a Diversity Week in January which would showcase the talents of all the school's divisions. In addition to performances and exhibitions, there would be workshops and discussions focusing on the issue of diversity. The President of the Institute was going to hold a meeting next week that all faculty and students were to attend. At that meeting, he and the Deans would further explain what was expected of everyone.

"Guess this means we'll be working all break," Xavier complained.

"Less play time for you and your honey?" asked Rennie.

"No play time," he moaned. "This is going to be a showcase which means it has to be da bomb."

"Your work is always good," Justin assured him. "Besides, we've got the rest of November and half of December before the break."

"And you've got Thanksgiving to play," said Rennie. "Just store it up for the winter." She grinned. "Do like the squirrels do. Gather Ye nuts while Ye can," she laughed.

Whenever they went to the park, Gus invariably made a friend—among the mothers of the children playing. And not for his sake alone, normally it was due to his daddies. Didn't matter if he went with one or the other or both. In fact, when he was with both of them, they seemed to get that much more attention despite the fact that it was obvious to everyone that the two men were a couple. This did not dissuade grown women from behaving like schoolgirls: giggling and fawning over them as if they were movie stars. Gus loved it, basked in the attention while his fathers did their best to endure the women until the little boy was ready to go home.

After the last such episode, Brian commented to Justin, "Maybe we should build him a playground in the back yard."

"You know you love it."

"Why can't some of the other dads bring their kids to the park?"

Justin laughed as he loaded Gus' car into the back of the Cherokee. "They do. It's just that they're straight and they're not interested in us."

"Their loss."


Checking the rear view mirror, Brian answered. "Yeah?"

"I want to play with Leo."

"We're going back home now."



Justin smiled. More than anything, Gus was teaching Brian patience as the three-year-old had more questions than a round of "Jeopardy!"

"Is Nana coming?"

"Not this time."


"Because she has work to do."

"Where Nana work?"

"At home."

"We go see her?"

"No, she's busy."

Recognizing the tone in Brian's voice, Gus gave up his pestering and began pouting which made Justin laugh out loud. He was Brian's son all right. "Hey, Gus," Justin called.


"Do you remember going to see Santa Claus last year?"

"Sana Claus!"

"Remember him asking you if you'd been good or bad?"


"Well, he did. And he's going to ask you this year too. Santa doesn't like it when you're bad. Or when you pout and cry either. Just like the song. You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I'm telling you why, Santa Claus is coming to town," he sang.

Gus, who loved to sing, joined in. "Sana Claus is coming to town!"

"Oh, my aching head," whispered Brian.

Nine hours later he was sitting in one of the armchairs in his room reading Goodnight Moon to the little boy, marveling that Gus would actually sit still for it.

"In the great green room
There was a telephone
And a red balloon
And a picture of—
The cow jumping over the moon."

Even though Gus' mommy and mama had read the book to him numerous times, he succumbed to its magic each time he heard the familiar stanzas. And he moved his fingers as if he were saying goodbye and said the words along with Brian.

"Goodnight bears
Goodnight chairs
Goodnight kittens
And goodnight mittens"

By the time Brian got to the end, Gus was nearly gone but he managed to whisper the last few lines as his daddy read them aloud.

"Goodnight stars
Goodnight air
Goodnight noises everywhere."

Brian closed the book and carried Gus to his room and tucked him in. Leo leapt onto the bed and settled down as Brian found Beh and put him next to the little boy. He kissed his son on his forehead and left the nightlight on. Then pulled the door shut and went in search of his other little boy.

Found him in their room just turning back the covers. He was gloriously naked and Brian embraced him from behind and kissed his neck.

"Mmm," Justin murmured. "Gus asleep?"

"Knocked out for the night. I hope."

"We only need a half hour or so," teased Justin as he turned in his arms.

"I want the whole night," Brian told him, kissing his way up his partner's throat from his breastbone to his chin. He kissed his mouth, slipping his tongue between Justin's lips. His hands slid down the young man's back, traveling along his spine, coming to rest upon his buttocks. Brian cupped the mounds of his ass and sighed inside his mouth. "I love your ass," he whispered between kisses.

"What else?"

Brian combed his fingers through Justin's golden pubes before encircling his cock. "I love your cock."

Breathlessly, Justin asked, "What else?"

"Love your mouth," he replied and kissed him even harder until their lips started to swell. Breaking the connection, Brian lifted Justin up and eased him back onto the bed. Stood staring down at him, at his beautiful, lithe body. Justin, flushed from the attention, looked aside. "I love you," Brian said and Justin looked back at him. Then Brian began to undress.

Justin's heartbeat sped up as he watched Brain disrobe. Even though they'd made love a thousand times, he never failed to be excited by the prospect of touching Brian, of feeling him inside his body. He trembled as his lover dropped off the last piece of clothing and reached for him.

Brian raised Justin's foot and kissed his toes, his tongue slipping in between them. Kissed the bridge of his foot and around to his ankle. Kissed down his calf to his knee then raised the other leg and gave it the same treatment: toes, foot, ankle, calf, knee. He knelt by the side of the bed and drew Justin forward, the young artist's legs resting on either of his shoulders, and he kissed the inside of his thighs.

"Ah," breathed Justin and he reached out and touched Brian's head, ruffling his hair.

With Justin's legs raised and parted, Brian had access to his creamy buttocks, so he kissed them as well. Nuzzled around his hole, breathing air across the wrinkled surface, kissing the outer rim but foraging no further. Instead, he raised his head and opened his mouth, took Justin's sac between his lips and kissed his balls. Justin had shaved recently and they were smooth and pink and delicious.

Delirious with pleasure, Justin pressed down on his cock, offering it to Brian.

He accepted. Kissed the broad head. Rubbed the opening with the tip of his tongue. He nibbled around the edges before taking the entire head in his mouth to suck it. Let it slip free and kissed down and around the shaft while his fingers continued to ply the head. His tongue followed the large vein on the underside of Justin's cock. He paused where the shaft met his balls and sucked on the vein until Justin cried out. The head had swollen beneath his fingers and he felt a sudden stickiness as a bead of precum appeared at the tip. Spreading it over the head, Brian continued to lick the shaft. He could feel Justin's balls brushing against his chin.

Justin knew his cock was leaking. Brian always made him wet. Groaning, he willed Brian to go down on him. He felt as if his cock was going to explode if he didn't get inside his mouth soon.

Making his way back up the thickening shaft, Brian licked beneath the head, then licked along the slit. He heard Justin moaning above him and smiled. His baby was aching for his throat. Pulling him forward on the bed, cupping his buttocks in his hands, Brian swooped down on his cock and began to blow him.

"Yes… Yes!" Justin cried and whimpered as Brian sucked his cock. Every nerve ending in his dick was firing. Each time his cock head brushed against the roof of Brian's mouth, he wanted to scream. When it slipped into the depths of his throat, Justin groaned, thigh muscles tightening, ass tightening. Brian twisted his head as he sucked his little boy off. He tugged on his cock as he raised his head, his actions rewarded by the deep moan that erupted from Justin's belly.

Justin's legs began trembling even though they had nothing more to do than to lie across Brian's shoulders. He grabbed the comforter in his fists, his toes curled as if trying to grip a rug. "Oh! Oh!" he cried. "Oh! Brian! Brian!"

Brian bore down on him, clamped his lips around him about midway the shaft, and sucked hard.

"God!" He jerked and came, felt the first spurt leave his cock, then the second. He could feel his cock head rubbing against the roof of Brian's mouth, the hole spread open to release another slitful of cum. His dick was slippery with saliva and jizz but Brian maintained his hold until the last bit of spooge dribbled from the tip. Justin slumped to the bed, would have slipped from it except that Brian still held onto him.

He didn't release Justin until the young man's heartbeat slowed once more. Then, tenderly, he let him loose from the confines of his mouth. Laid him upon the bed and stretched out next to him and gently stroked his moist and still swollen cock.

Justin pulled Brian's head down and kissed him, tasting his cum on his lips. "Fuck me," he whispered.

"I intend to," Brian replied and he let his hand slip down between Justin's legs. Fingers wet with sweat and saliva and cum, Brian probed his ass until he found the opening that he sought.

When the finger entered him, he inhaled sharply, then sighed as Brian eased in further. They kissed as Brian fingered his ass, loosening him up, getting him ready for his cock. After a minute or so, the finger withdrew. Brian rolled over and opened the toy chest, took out the lube and something else.

"Close your eyes," he told his lover and Justin complied.

He didn't know what Brian had taken out of the trunk but he was already getting excited again. He could feel his cock stirring once more.

Brian moved him around on the bed and rolled him over onto his stomach, placed a pillow beneath him to raise his ass. Parted his thighs. Justin's balls were visible between his legs. Brian lapped at them briefly before turning to his main objective. Pressing on either cheek, he exposed Justin's pink hole. Burying his face between his thighs, Brian licked his lover's hole until it glistened. He could see and feel the edges contract and release. Could hear Justin breathing louder. As if starved for it, Brian ate out his hole, devouring it until the muscles relaxed enough for his tongue to slip inside. Curling the tip of his tongue, he listened to Justin moan in pleasure.

"Oh, God, Brian…" he whispered. His head was spinning. He thought he would pass out it felt so good. Again Brian's tongue dipped inside him and his pisshole opened and precum surged forth. He raised up a little, pushing his ass back, wanting Brian's tongue deeper inside him.

Brian reached beneath Justin, felt his cock. He was already hard again, already leaking again. His own cock was hard as stone. His balls were aching and he longed to fuck Justin senseless. But he had another surprise for his little boy. Tearing himself away from his ass, Brian picked up the two items he'd taken from the trunk. Flipped the top on the KY and lubed each of the anal beads on the string. Then positioning himself behind Justin, he pressed the first one against his hole.

Justin gasped as the bead spread the rim of his asshole. Brian pushed harder and the bead passed through the ring of muscle. They were both breathing rapidly. The second bead went in easier than the first and the third easier still. Brian continued until five beads had disappeared inside his little boy's ass. Then, grabbing hold of the ring that hung down against Justin's balls, Brian pulled.

"Ah!" Justin grunted as the first bead plopped out.

Brian reached down and stroked his cock. Precum wet his hand. He rubbed it on his belly and tugged on the ring. The second bead popped free and his cock throbbed. Precum bubbled at the tip.

Justin wriggled and gripped the pillow beneath his head as the third and fourth beads exited. As the fifth and final bead came free with a sucking sound, he moaned. He could imagine how his hole looked, the edges spread open, swollen red, slick with lube. The bed shifted and Brian's cock touched him. Justin cried out as the hard organ split him open even wider than the beads had. Brian paused with the head just inside him.

"You want it?" he asked gruffly, lust and desire thickening his voice..

"Fuck me," he groaned into the pillow and Brian pushed forward. The head hit his prostate and everything fractured into a million colors. When the world returned to normal, Brian was buried deep inside him.

He withdrew, just until his cockhead bumped Justin's prostate, and then he thrust forward. Listening to his lover beg him to fuck him, he continued to ply the swollen organ until Justin's pleas became incoherent. He pulled out entirely, then slid back in. Gave him a few inches. Backed up, just until the head remained inside. Fucked him like that for a few minutes, easy, no rush. Just in and out, swaying gently.

The change of tempo gave him the chance to catch his breath, to calm down and enjoy the ride. He was content just to kneel there and let Brian do all the work.

Placing his hands on Justin's ass, Brian felt him up as he fucked him. He knew how much Justin loved to have his ass touched as they fucked and he heard him sighing now. Brian let one hand slide down further, catch hold of Justin's balls. He stroked them as he rocked against Justin's ass.

God, it was getting close again. Brian was playing with his balls and it felt so good. He laid his head against his arm and concentrated on not coming. It was too soon. He wanted to be fucked all night. He wanted Brian to fuck him raw, to leave his hole stretched out and dripping with cum. Moaning, he tried to clear his mind. That image wasn't helping him keep his cool. After a while, Brian released his sac and he gave a sigh of relief. Maybe now—

Brian buried his cock all the way inside Justin and withdrew completely. Plunged back inside and withdrew again. He could see the edges of Justin's hole trembling in between thrusts as he punch fucked him.

A cry tore from his lips. "Oh, God," he groaned. "Oh, God…"

Cock back inside, Brian leaned all the way over Justin and began humping him. Fast. Hard. His dick only moved a few inches in either direction. His balls slapped against Justin's ass, the noise punctuating the sound of their breathing.

Justin's mouth fell open and for the next few minutes he didn't know what he was saying. Words issued from between his lips but they were divorced from any conscious thought. All he was aware of was Brian's cock slamming into his ass and his own cock throbbing beneath him. it was rubbing against the pillow Brian had put underneath him and he was grateful for the softness because he was harder than he'd ever been.

He rode his lover's ass with abandon. Cushioned between the velvety smooth walls of Justin's hole, Brian lost himself in the movement of his hips, compelled by the need to come. In and out, in and out, he fucked Justin's ass, grunting as he shoved his cock deeper, harder. Suddenly his balls felt like they were being twisted and then he shouted in relief.

Brian was coming inside him and he welcomed it as it gave him permission to come as well. Hole tightening in a series of spasms, his balls emptied themselves once more. He could hear Brian crying out as his asshole gripped his dick. Yeah…

Justin relaxed as he finished coming. Brian was inside him and it felt amazing. He lay still, savoring each moment, until Brian pulled out.

Going back on his knees, Brian looked out of half-lidded eyes at Justin's hole, cum staining the edges. Gently, he touched the opening with his fingers, let them sink inside, and heard Justin sigh.

After the Olympic efforts of the previous night, there were aching muscles enough to go around in the morning: they were sore, tired, and stiff.

Brian groaned. He didn't want to think about being hard for at least a few days. His cock felt like it was going to fall off and, at this point, he didn't think he'd mind so much. He brushed Justin's hip to wake him up and heard his partner hiss and warn, "My ass is sore."

Gently, Brian kissed his neck and said, "Trust me, I'm not up to anything beyond opening my eyes."

Justin turned gingerly over onto his back. "I asked for this, didn't I?"

"Begged for it."

"I didn't really think you could get it up that many times in one night."

"I think I was using a cock crane by the last go round," Brian joked and then his head whipped around. "Shit." Gus. He could hear him running across the floor. "Oh, I am so not ready for this," he moaned.

Trying to turn over on his side so as to keep Gus from bouncing on top of his stomach and thus putting pressure on his tender parts, Justin grunted with the effort. "I’m never letting you near my ass again."

"Promises, promises."

Gus pushed open their door and came barreling into the room. They'd tried to get him to knock and wait for their permission but he was as of yet too young to have that lesson engrained in him. Seeing Brian, he called, "Daddy!"

Bracing himself for the impact, Brian watched while Gus climbed onto the bed and stood upright, jarring them all. He walked over and sat on Brian's lap.

"Ooo," he moaned and gritted his teeth while moving Gus onto the bed between him and Justin. Before Gus could complain, he gave him a kiss and asked, "Did you and Leo have good dreams last night?" The cat curled up at Gus' feet.

"I dreamed about, about ice cream!" Gus yelled.

Leaning over to kiss him too, Justin laughed. "You can't have ice cream for breakfast," he replied, heading off Gus' question.

The little boy pouted. "I want ice cream," he said sadly.

"Later. After lunch maybe," Justin told him, no promises. " 'kay?"

"Okay." Gus brightened and got up on his knees and bounced. "Daddy!"

"What?" asked Justin.

Gus wrinkled his nose and giggled. "You stink."

"I smell like Daddy," he said and Brian laughed. There was probably enough of his cum up Justin's hole to make that a true statement.

Brian rubbed Gus' back to get his attention. "How about you go and find something to wear today while we take our shower?"

"I want shower too," Gus complained. He loved dancing around in the shower while they bathed.

"You had a bath last night. Now, go find something to put on." Muscles protesting, Brian lifted him up and kissed him before putting him on the floor. "Go," he told him.

Calling to the cat, Gus marched off to his room, mouth in a hard line.

"He's yours all right," Justin said, then threw back the covers and wrinkled his nose. "I do stink."

Brian leaned over and kissed him. "My favorite scent," he said, following his nose to Justin's belly which was streaked with Justin's cum. He extended his tongue to take a taste.

Against his better judgement, Justin felt his cock stir. Pushed Brian's head away. "You're evil."

Grinning, Brian eased from the bed, glad of Justin's refusal. He didn't think he could make good on his apparent offer even if he tried.

In the weeks to come, they would look back on this weekend as being almost perfect. Despite being tired and having to run after Gus, the two men savored each moment as if, somehow, they knew the days ahead would bring their share of trouble.

"Hey, Bledsoe, what's this?" Justin asked as he put down his stuff and picked up an envelope that had been taped to his drafting board. He and Bledsoe still shared a space since there was a shortage. Bledsoe was used to him ("Don't have to train a new guy," he'd said.) and, besides, Justin was hardly ever in the space except between classes.

His studio mate looked around the partition. "I don't know. Found it on the floor when I got here. Somebody must have slipped it under the door."

Perching on his seat, Justin tore open the envelope and unfolded the letter that was inside.

"Obviously the little talk we had with you didn't convince you of the seriousness of our position. Make Diversity Week disappear or we may have to perform a little magic act of our own." It was printed on a sheet of plain laser printing paper. Could have been typed on any computer in or out of school. No way to trace it. The missive shook in his hand. There was no mistaking the message they'd intended to send: Shut up or we'll shut you up. It was as plain as if they'd written it in invisible ink and he'd waved a flame beneath the paper.

Bledsoe called from his side, "What was it?"

He folded it up and slipped it back into its envelope. "Chain letter."

Snorting, Bledsoe said, "I hate that shit. I'm glad they sent it to you then. I don't need anymore bad, fuckin' luck."

The assembly was tomorrow. He was slated to appear on the stage with the Deans and the President of the Institute. They hadn't asked him to say anything but it was hoped that his appearance flanking the podium would send a message to the student body that this was more than just extra work, this was something important. Justin laid the envelope back on his drafting board and eyed it as if it were a poisonous viper coiled to strike. He'd given his word to the Dean of his division. Given his word to Annabelle that he would represent the Diversity Council on stage. He'd started the entire ball rolling. How could he back out now?

He couldn’t. Taking the letter in hand, he grabbed his bag and headed out.

"You gone?" called Bledsoe.

"Yeah, I'm going home. Later."

"See ya."

Instead of going directly to the Cherokee, he made a detour to the restroom. Shut himself inside one of the stalls. Tore the letter into a dozen pieces and flushed them down the commode. As he watched them swirl in the water, he vowed never to mention the letter to Brian. He would be on that stage tomorrow. Nothing and no one would stop him.

Only he didn't feel so confident walking to his car. Despite being outside in the open (no more cutting through the Bunker for him) he felt as if someone was watching him. The feeling didn't leave him until he pulled into the driveway of the house and saw Brian's Jeep parked by the garage. Resisting the urge to unburden himself to his husband, he went inside and walked upstairs to find Brian still in the process of changing clothes.

When Brian heard him coming, he paused in the act of slipping on a t-shirt and embraced his young husband, shirt dangling from his hand. Kissed him soundly. "Hey."


"Thought you were working late at school."

Justin ran his fingers through the nape of Brian's neck. "Changed my mind."


He took the t-shirt Brian was holding and dropped it on the bench then unbuttoned Brian's jeans. Cocked his head with a smile. "Starving."

He lay in bed waiting for room service to arrive. Brian had called for take-out and was downstairs paying for it. Justin didn't feel like moving and didn't intend to for the next hour or so if he could help it. Yet, despite having come home and made love, he still couldn't get that note out of his head. He knew the right thing to do would be to discuss it with Brian but he couldn't. Brian would overreact, demand that he drop out of the planning for Diversity Week and that wasn't an option. He couldn't let the faceless "them" win. Even if they did oppose Bush (and he certainly did as well), he couldn't condone their methods. Intimidation made them no better than that asshole in office. What good did it do to condemn him and then employ the very same methods to achieve your goals?

Brian came in bearing dinner on a tray. "You look like you've got more than Chicken Vindaloo on your mind." They'd ordered from their favorite Indian restaurant, best chicken dishes in town. "We eating at the table or in bed?"

Justin made room on the bed but removed the wine and glasses from the tray before Brian sat it down. "I wasn't thinking of anything in particular."

"No?" He fussed with his pillow until it was just right and he could lean back against the headboard. "You're not thinking about what you're going to say tomorrow?"

"I don't have to say anything. I feel kind of weird," he confessed. "I mean, I'm not even the chair of the Diversity Council."

"But Diversity Week was your brainchild," Brian pointed out.

"No," corrected Justin, "it was yours." He reached for Brian's hand and kissed his fingers. "I told the Dean that. He remembered that you were an advertiser."

"You told me."

Sheepish, Justin grinned. "He didn't even blink when I said my husband came up with the idea."

"Got the ring…" Brian said, stretching out his fingers before freeing his hand from Justin's.

"Got the man," said Justin, squeezing his knee.

"You'll do fine. You always do." Brian smiled at him while tearing a round of naan in half and giving Justin part.

"You mean I can actually have some this time?" Brian was a notoriously selfish consumer of naan. Most of the time Justin only managed to get a scrap—if he was lucky. He wondered what had changed.

"There's another round downstairs," Brian confessed.

"You." Justin pushed at his arm.

"Don't worry," Brian told him, "I'd give you half of anything I had."

Justin smiled softly, then poured a glass of wine.

He was walking through the Bunker. It was late and the lights were flickering on and off. Although there were no puddles in the Bunker, he stepped in one, disturbing the smooth surface. He heard a noise and turned. Nothing. Turned back around. The Bunker seemed to stretch before him for miles. He quickened his pace. Heard another sound. Whipped his head around to check. Again nothing. He walked faster, began to jog a little. Instead of getting closer to the end, the more he ran, the further the tunnel extended.

The noise he heard returned. Previously unidentifiable, he could now tell what it was. Footsteps. Following him. But whenever he turned around, he saw nothing. Still the footsteps continued their pursuit. Growing louder. Closer. The sound of the footsteps warred with the beating of his heart. He had to get out of the tunnel. But the end was so far away. So far away.

The footsteps sounded like they were right behind him. He didn't dare look around, could only keep running, hoping that eventually he made it to the end, to the door, to freedom.

He ran. Ran without looking behind him. Was afraid to now as his pursuer sounded as if he were right on his heels. Frantically he scanned ahead. He had to be getting closer to the end of the tunnel. But the footsteps kept getting closer. Closer. He was terrified. Didn't want to look around but he had to, had to see how close they were to him. He could almost feel the breath on his neck.

He turned and a flash of light streaked across his vision. Something struck him in the forehead and then everything went black.

He sat up in bed with a shout. Oh, God. Oh, God. Where was he?

Brian jerked awake. "Baby?" Saw Justin sitting up, chest heaving as if he'd just run a three hundred yard dash. When he reached for him, Justin jerked away. "Justin, what's wrong?"

"I…" Justin tried to catch his breath. "I just… It was a dream."

"Nightmare, you mean."

"I'm okay."

Brian took in the fine sheen of sweat on Justin's face. "You remember what it was about?"

He shook his head, lying. Laid back down and allowed Brian to pull the covers up over him and to kiss his forehead.

" 'Night."

" 'Night." As he closed his eyes, he wondered what tomorrow would bring.

Xavier walked with Justin towards the auditorium. "You nervous?"

He shrugged. "Not like I have to make a speech."

"What if they ask you to say something?"

"Guess I'll come up with something then. I've been married to Brian long enough to BS my way out of almost anything," he bragged.

His friend laughed recognizing a huge pile of crap when he heard it. "You let His Big and Badness hear you say that, you'll be in trouble."

Snickering too, Justin was almost looking forward to the assembly when he remembered the letter he'd received. Instantly, his features darkened.

The change did not go unnoticed. "What's up?" Over the course of their friendship Xavier had learned to read Justin's every mood.


Xavier called him out. "You lying like a rug."

"It's nothing."

"Then why did you shut down just then?"


"Brian know about it?"

"I don't have to tell him everything," Justin replied huffily.

With a whistle, Xavier said, "It must be a biggie if you lying to him too."

"I'm not lying to him."

"Omitting to tell the truth is a lie too, you know." Xavier glanced sidelong at Justin. "So what's up, J?"

Justin took a deep breath. In some ways, telling Xavier was just as bad as telling Brian. Despite the fact that they no longer had a sexual relationship and regardless of the fact that Xavier was seeing Trey, they still had a connection and Xavier would probably react just as badly as Brian. He'd been ready to go kick some ass too when he'd seen Justin's face after the attack in the Bunker.


"I got a letter."

"From who?"

"Don't know." Added, "The same people who ambushed me I suppose."

Alarmed, Xavier asked, "What'd it say?"

"Basically to forget about Diversity Week if I knew what was good for me."

Blowing out a stream of air, Xavier asked, "And you didn't tell Brian about that?"

"There's nothing he can do!"

Justin's outburst attracted the attention of some other students who were headed towards the auditorium as well. He and Xavier moved off into a side corridor.

"J, if you keep this from him and he finds out, he's gonna be pissed. And I don't fault him."

"He's not going to find out," Justin assured him. "The only way he could find out is if you or I told him. And we're not going to tell him, are we?"

Xavier threw up his hands. "My name is Wes and I ain't in this mess. You all on your own."

"I thought you had my back," joked Justin.

"You know I got your back," said Xavier, dead serious. "But if something happens to you—"

"Nothing's going to happen to me."

"If something does and Brian finds out you—we lied to him? Man, it's gone take Nana Rose to keep him from kicking both our asses."

Justin smiled. "I can handle Brian."

That made Xavier laugh again. "Either you been gettin' shermed out or you been hitting skins something serious."

Which made Justin laugh outright. "What can I say? He loves my ass," and he sauntered off assuming Xavier would follow.

Even though he wasn't hittin' it anymore, Xavier could understand where Brian was coming from: Justin had one great ass.

By the time they got to the auditorium, Rennie had already arrived and saved Xavier a seat. Justin looked around for the Dean, spotted him, and walked over to where he stood when the man beckoned. The Dean paused in his conversation with President Thornton to introduce Justin.

"President Thornton, this is Justin Taylor-Kinney," Justin smiled, "one of our best and brightest over in Fine Arts."

"Mr. Taylor-Kinney."

Justin took his hand. "Sir."

"Dean Waltrip tells me Diversity Week was your idea."

"Actually," Justin explained, "it was my husband's."

"And what does he do?"

"He's an advertiser."

President Thornton slapped Justin on the back. "Maybe you can convince him to do some pro bono work for us."

"I can try." As they took their seats on the stage, Justin felt better than he had in days. He'd been sure he'd pushed it when he'd mentioned Brian but the President's reaction told him that he'd done the right thing. After all, wasn't that what Diversity Week was all about? The right to be different? Beaming one of his brightest smiles, Justin relaxed. Maybe this was going to work out after all.

There was a message from Brian on his cell phone when he checked it saying he'd be late that evening. Had some emergency hand holding to do with a nervous client, so dinner was a no-go. At loose ends, Justin made a snap decision. He hadn't seen his dad in a while and he hadn't broached the subject of Thanksgiving with him so there was no better time than the present.

He called ahead to make sure Craig was available, then arranged to meet him for dinner at this restaurant his dad really liked. They'd gone there on Craig's birthday once before he and Jenn had split up. Back when they'd all pretended that they were one, big, happy, upper-middle-class family.

As he gave his dad's name to the maitre d', Justin looked around, taking in the somber, staid surroundings and realized that was the probably the reason why his dad liked it so much: it reeked of respectability. Brian wouldn't be caught dead in a place like that unless he was wooing a client. And a very old, unhip one at that.

He followed the maitre d' to where Craig waited and took the chair the man offered. Took the menu as well.


"Thanks," he replied; then, "Hey, Dad."

"Justin. I'm glad you called."

"No hot date tonight?"

Craig grinned. "What can I say? Your old man is slowing down." He looked up as the waiter appeared. "Scotch on the rocks. Justin?"

"A glass of merlot. Thanks."

The man went away to fetch their drinks.

"So how's Brian?"

Not wanting to laugh, Justin held it in for about two seconds, then chuckled. "That almost sounded unrehearsed."

"Well?" asked Craig, waiting for an answer.

"He's fine. Gus is fine too. He asked about you the other day."

"Oh really?"

"He misses his Granddaddy Craig." The waiter returned and Justin waited until he'd put down their drinks and taken their dinner orders before continuing the thread of the conversation. "You should give him a call sometimes."

"He's a good kid."

"When he's not being bad," Justin said, shaking his head. The things Gus managed to get into. "Well, maybe not bad. Just… energetic."

"You were a holy terror when you were a little boy," Craig told him.

Justin's voice went up an octave. "Me?"

"Yes, you. You started walking and all bets were off."

"Well, Gus is exactly like Brian. He wants his own way all the time and when he can't get it, he pouts. He's into everything. If you want him to stay out of something, you have to lock it up." Justin laughed. "We left the—" stopped. That was probably not a good story to tell right now. Especially since Gus had come downstairs waving around a ten-inch dildo and almost caused Brian to choke on his chewing gum. Justin had laughed so hard his back and sides had hurt.

"Left the what?"

Maybe Craig would be satisfied with a partial answer. "The chest at the foot of the bed, we left it unlocked once and Gus got into it."

Craig didn't see the crime. "So? What's in there? Blankets and stuff?"

"Ah… no." Cheeks warming, Justin really hoped Craig dropped it.

The man saw the way Justin avoided his eyes. "I shouldn't ask, should I?"

"No," laughed Justin. "Maybe not."

Taking a sip of his drink, Craig said, "So, why'd you want to see me?"

"Cause I haven't seen you since Gus' birthday party."


"And I wanted to know if you were coming to Thanksgiving at our house."

"Is that an invitation?" asked Craig.

"We decided to forgo the formal, engraved ones," he joked.

"How'd you talk Brian into inviting me?"

"I didn't have to."

It was Craig's turn to laugh. "That almost sounded convincing. But not quite."

Justin confessed. "He was a little leery at first but then he agreed. After all, Thanksgiving is for family and you're a part of my family."

"Will his friends be there?"

"You mean our friends? Which ones?"

"The ones who were at your graduation party."

"Yeah. Ted, Emmett, Michael, and Jeff. Deb and Vic too."

"Who's Jeff?"

"Michael's boyfriend." Justin waited for his father to turn down the invitation.

Raising his glass again, Craig finished his drink and wished he had another. "I'll think about it."

"Which means no," Justin said, disappointed and not bothering to hide it.

"Which means I'll think about it," Craig reiterated. "I'm not a monster, Justin."

"I know that."

"I'm just…"

"Slow?" Justin volunteered.

"Cautious," Craig offered instead. "The world's changing a lot faster than I am. And not always for the better."

"No," agreed Justin, "but it's all we have. So we have to deal with it, the good and the bad."

"So I'll think about it," said Craig and that was all he would promise.

As he had hoped, Brian was at home when he got there. He'd already changed and was stretched out on the sofa with a folder stuffed full of papers. A sandwich sat on a plate which was perched on his lap. On the table within easy reach was a bottle of beer. Justin leaned over and kissed him.

"How'd it go?"

"What? Dinner?" He'd left Brian a note on the fridge about where he'd be.

"Yeah and the assembly thing you had." He put aside his work and concentrated on the sandwich.

"I could fix you something else to eat," Justin offered.

"I’m not really hungry. So spill."

"The assembly went okay. I didn't have to say anything so that was cool."

"Just sat there and looked pretty."

"And," continued Justin, ignoring his husband's comment, "I got to meet the president of the institute. When I told him that Diversity Week was your idea and that you were an advertiser, he said maybe you could do some pro bono work for the school."

Brian snickered. "I'll take it out in trade."

"My ass is already yours," Justin pointed out.

"Who said anything about your ass? I'm looking for greener pastures."

"You're looking to be part of a pasture, pushing up daisies," warned Justin. Even though he knew Brian was joking, he didn't care much for the joke. Reminded him too much of the old days.

Setting his sandwich on the table and pulling Justin over onto his lap, Brian bestowed a huge kiss upon his lips. He'd seen the fire of jealousy flare up in Justin's eyes and wanted to reassure him that no one would or could ever take his place.

"So how about we work out the details of this trade?" Justin asked when he could.

Brian dumped him back onto the couch. "I think I need to keep my options open."

Shoving him, Justin laughed. "You!"

He finished chewing, asked, "What'd your dad say about Thanksgiving?"

Justin took a swig of Brian's beer. "Said he'd think about it."

"He's not coming," Brian said, taking his beer from Justin.

"Whether he does or not, we'll still have a fabulous Thanksgiving."

"Are we planning on running away by ourselves and having Thanksgiving at some ridiculously romantic country inn somewhere?"

Justin was confused, Brian knew their friends were coming over. What was he talking about? "No."

"Then you and I have drastically different definitions of fabulous."

Although he'd done a good job of not thinking about the threatening note all day since the assembly, when they retired to their room, it emerged from the recesses of his mind to loom ahead threateningly. What if he had another dream? Brian wouldn't believe the two dreams weren't connected and he wouldn't believe Justin didn't remember anything about them.

More than that, the idea that he was lying to Brian by not telling him about the note bothered him. Xavier was right. But if he told Brian, he could already foresee the argument and he didn't want to fight anymore with him about this, didn't want to spend any more days not talking either.

"Somebody's gerbil is working overtime," teased Brian when he saw the furrow in Justin's brow.

He settled down on his side of the bed and waited for Brian to get in too. Spent a moment stroking Brian's thigh seemingly absentmindedly. In reality, he was trying to put him in the best possible mood to hear his confession. Unable to put it off any longer, he said, "I… someone sent me a letter yesterday."

The muscles in Brian's belly tightened but he endeavored to remain calm. "What kind of letter?"

"Telling me to drop Diversity Week."

"Or?" There was always an or, implied or stated implicitly.

"Or basically I'd be sorry."

"You show it to the Dean?"

"I flushed it down the toilet." He watched his husband nod slowly, knew what he was doing. He was counting to ten and visualizing pleasant scenes, all the things Drew had taught him to try and manage his temper. And none of it was working.

"Justin, goddamnit." Brian paused and reached for his young love, drew him into his arms. More than giving a lecture, more than blowing up, this was what he wanted: to hold Justin and to keep him safe. "Be careful."

"I promise."

Looking at him directly, he added, "And don't keep things from me."

He was grateful that Brian didn't call it what it was: lying. "I'm sorry. I just didn't want you to worry."

Brian didn't tell him that he worried regardless. Ever since Justin had been attacked, he'd worried about him. And now his brilliant idea was backfiring all because the Institute needed a poster boy for Diversity Week.

"I'll be all right," Justin assured him.

"Not as long as you're in the public eye."

"There's no need for me to be now that the assembly's over. I can go back to being just another student."

Fat chance, thought Brian. "Until Diversity Week rolls around and you go back to being the face of diversity."

"I'll make sure to lay low."

Although he didn't want to upset Justin, he couldn't lie to him either. "There's nothing you can say, no promise you can make, Justin, that'll keep me from worrying about you. These assholes…"

"It's too late to call it all off."

"I know. That's what worries me the most." He just hoped that they weren't like Chris Hobbs, pushing and pushing until they pushed too hard. At least with Chris Hobbs, Justin's tormentor had had a face even if the people around Justin had ignored his complaints. That was the one thing for which Brian thought he'd never forgive himself. This time around, he didn't know who to watch for and he couldn't be with Justin all the time even if he did know. Brian slipped an arm around Justin's shoulders and held him, saying nothing. He had to have faith that things would work out for the best. Only, he'd never been too good at leaving things to chance as chance had usually ended up kicking him in the ass.

Nothing made Brian's morning like tearing apart one of Bob and Brad's so-called brainstorms. Unless it was tearing apart one of Darren Johnson's. Today, he was afforded a special treat: an ad created by the entire untalented triumvirate. How three people could work on an ad and still come up with a complete piece of shit wasn't exactly a mystery especially when you considered who the three people were. He was just about to whip out his special red pencil when Jennifer Taylor entered the room. The smile that he was about to greet her with disappeared when he saw the look in her eyes. She was upset. That was probably an understatement. Affecting a cool demeanor, he said, "This is a surprise. I guess I've done something wrong," he added, referring to the times when she'd stormed into his office to bitch at him about Justin.

"What are you going to do?"

"About what?"

"These threats." She didn't bother to sit and he didn't ask her to. He knew she wouldn't. When she was agitated, she rarely sat, preferring to stand in order to either tower over him or to make a quick escape, maybe both.

"He told you about the letter."

"And I saw the bruises. You can't let it happen to him again, Brian. Not again."

"It" was, of course, the bashing at the prom. "I don't intend to," he told her. "But there's not a whole helluva lot I can do about the situation."

"Talk to him."

"I've talked to him! And unless you want me to chain him to the bed and throw away the key, I can't do anything else but talk. He's a grown man, I can't tell him what to do."

"You're his partner—"

"Which means what?"

"Which means he has to think of what's best for the both of you."

"And I have to do the same thing. And," he admitted, "I don't see how trying to stop him from doing something he believes in is the best for us."

"And if he dies?"

"Don't," he said, looking away from her, away from the spectre that haunted his thoughts whenever he'd allow himself the luxury to even think about Justin dying.

"I have to think about that. He's my son."

"And he's my husband. You think I love him any less than you do?"

"I didn't mean that."

"I tried to guilt trip him into stopping and he hated me for it. We didn't talk for three days. I can't do that anymore." He stared at the mockup in front of him without really seeing it. "The only thing I can do is to trust him."

"And trust that he doesn't end up in the Emergency Room again," she added, turning to leave. Displeased to say the least.

"Jenn." He walked over to her, a feeling of helplessness dogging his every step. "What do you want me to do?"

Frustrated that she didn't have any answers either, she replied, "I don't know. I just… I can't—"

He embraced her, knowing the fear she felt was akin to his own. "I won't let anything happen to him. Not if I can help it."

"I know," she confessed, the fear loosening its hold on her somewhat. But they both knew that it was out of their hands. All they could do was hope.

Even though he knew it was driving Brian crazy just to be in the store, Justin held up a few silk burgundy roses and asked, "What about these?" He was looking for flowers for the Thanksgiving centerpiece he planned on creating.

Taking a deep breath, Brian swallowed his first response which was, "Like I give a fuck, and, instead, said, "They're fine. The last ten flowers you've shown me were fine. Just make up your mind and let's get out of here before I take up needlepoint." He was proud of himself for not using any four-letter words or variations thereof as the ladies in the store had looked over at him disapprovingly the first time he'd sworn earlier in the expedition.

"Keep your pants on," Justin told him. Ignoring the Dirty Harry look Brian was giving him, Justin went back around and picked up some of the flowers he'd scoped out the first and second go-rounds. Within minutes he had the ingredients for a beautiful bouquet, resplendent in fall colors: burgundy, deep gold, orange, and even eggplant. That done, he searched for the perfect pot or vase, found one of amber glass that would blend in perfectly with the rich appointments of the dining room.

At last they checked out and left the store, ignoring the whispering that followed them as they exited.

"You'd think they'd never seen queers before," Brian quipped.

"In that place?" said Justin. "Please, they're tripping over them. They've just never seen queers as beautiful as us."

Brian laughed and kissed Justin as they neared the car. "That's my Baby."

They were having to do a lot of their running around this weekend because next weekend they would have Gus and a three-year-old was no one's idea of a perfect shopping companion. Even compared to Brian. After they left the crafts store, they went to the Big Q to buy a card table and chairs to use as the children's table at dinner. Brian was all for going to a more upscale establishment and purchasing an expensive set but Justin convinced him of the futility of that plan.

"They'll grow out of it and then we'll be stuck with an expensive set that we don't need."

"What about the babies?"

"What babies?"

"The ones Lindsay and Daphne are gonna have someday."

Justin shrugged it off. "That's someday. And this set will last that long."

"God, you're tight," Brian commented.

And Justin grinned. "Just the way you like me."

It amazed him sometimes that he was able to get Brian to do something as domestic as buying flowers. Looking back at their lives, at where they started, to have even imagined that they could come this far had been quite a feat. But he had imagined it. Maybe not under the exact circumstances but he'd dreamt many a night that he and Brian would marry and have a home of their own and do things normal couples did even if they'd never be a normal couple and never did anything in the normal fashion. Today's expedition had proven that. No matter what, they'd always be who they were and that suited him just fine.

He loved walking into a store with Brian and watching heads turn, no matter the reason. Sometimes he could tell they were outraged by the fact that they were gay. And together. Other times people—both men and women—were impressed by one or the other or both of them. He'd caught more than one person checking out his ass or watching Brian saunter by unaware of their scrutiny. Maybe not unaware, just unconcerned. He was used to people looking at him, assumed they were, and was rather put out if he didn't garner the attention he felt he deserved.

As Brian closed the back of the Cherokee, Justin grinned at him and slipped his hand inside his front pocket, feeling the other man's cock; he knew every bump and ridge, every vein intimately. Brian raised a brow. "Sex break?"

"Sex break." He just hoped they could make it home.

Or find a deserted street.

He saw it before he saw Justin. Bent down and picked it up before his friend could beat him to it and deny its existence.

"Give it here," said Justin, walking up to his door.

Xavier held it out, but did not surrender the letter. "Open it."

"I intend to." He snatched it out of Xavier's hand, getting angrier by the moment. Goddamnit, he'd wanted this to be over and he'd just gotten Brian calmed down and—

"Right now. And read it. Out loud." Xavier folded his arms and waited.

"What the fuck are you talking about?" Instead of one of his best friends, Xavier was suddenly acting like a concerned lover and they were no longer lovers, hadn't been for a long time.

"I don't want you lying to me, so I figured I'd save you the trouble. So read it."

Pissed but nearly dying of curiosity, Justin tore open the envelope and read the letter silently. Xavier reached for it but Justin held it out of reach.

"What does it say?"

His face was ashen. "It says, 'No more warnings.' "

"What does that mean?"

"What the fuck do you think it means?" He was livid, wanting to strike out at anyone and, unfortunately, Xavier was there. Xavier had stuck his nose in where it didn't belong and now he was going to reap the benefits.

"You telling Brian?"

"Are you crazy?" Brian would freak out, would lock him in their suite and throw away the key. He'd be a bird in a gilded cage with all the most up-to-date modern conveniences. Except freedom.

"Then I'm telling him."

Justin was certain he'd just lost his mind. "What?"

Speaking clearly, Xavier repeated himself. "I said, I'm telling him. He's your husband and he deserves to know."

"Since when have you given a shit about Brian?" Which was unfair but fuck fairness.

"Since you picked him over me and he still tried to slit his wrists." Xavier screwed up his face. "If something happens to you, it'll kill him."

He wanted this conversation to be over. "I don't need you to tell me about Brian! I know him better than anyone."

"Then act like it, goddamnit. Be a man. You hide this from him, you ain't nothing but a punk."

Justin shoved his friend. "Fuck you!"

With arms hardened from swinging a hammer against stone and from soldering bars of iron together, Xavier grabbed Justin with very little trouble. "Fuck you, you little asshole. All you care about is yourself." He let go of him with a hard push that made Justin thud against the wall. His piece said, Xavier stormed off.

Crushing the letter into a ball, Justin gritted his teeth. He wanted to hit something, someone. All he'd done was to try and do something right, to help someone and it had all gone to hell. Thomas had quit PIFA, Brian was worried about him dying in some tunnel, and now Xavier was mad at him. Unlocking the studio, he stomped inside and kicked the door close. "Fuck!"

Although they'd known that keeping Gus the weekend before Thanksgiving would be a headache, they'd done it anyway, wanting to spend as much time with the toddler as possible before the big day. Mistake. Enormous mistake. He and Leo seemed to run on pure air and they did laps inside the house like it was Le Mans.

Justin, to Brian's way of thinking, wasn't much better. Despite having planned for the dinner for the past two weeks, Justin found a thousand and one things that had to be done this last Saturday before T-Day. Trying to keep out of his way—and to keep his mouth shut—Brian spent a lot of time in his study fiddling with his camera equipment. Lindsay expected a buttload of pictures and he aimed to please. Of course, he was constantly interrupted by Justin paging him on the intercom regarding some emergency or another. Which usually turned out to be a tempest in a teacup. Justin had to be the world's biggest Drama Princess. He was more than a little relieved when Justin informed him that he had to go out and pick up something he'd forgotten during one of their numerous shopping expeditions. Kissing him goodbye, Brian found Gus and Leo nodding on the sofa and carried the little boy up to his room for a nap. Silence having descended upon the house, Brian decided to get forty winks himself. Almost instantly he fell asleep.

Having slept for a half hour, he awoke and got up, confused about the day. For some reason he'd thought it was the day before Thanksgiving and that Gus was asleep in his bed but when he checked the tot's room, it was empty. As it should have been on one of the weekends when he didn't visit. Scratching his head, Brian wondered where Justin was and then remembered that he had gone to the Institute to pick up something he'd forgotten on Friday. Justin was always forgetting something somewhere. Brian was just glad he'd bought him the Cherokee. Saved him having to give up the Jeep for one of Justin's errands. Or worse, having to go with him as, invariably, their trips together involved Justin showing him something they just had to have for the house. Brian couldn't remember the last time he'd bought himself something truly spectacular. Maybe it was time to remedy that.

Since it was getting close to lunchtime, Brian checked the fridge to see if they had any leftovers. Nothing. Not really in the mood to cook, he decided to wait for Justin and hope his spouse had been intrepid enough to pick up something on the way home. Then, not wanting to leave things to chance, Brian plopped down on the couch and dialed Justin's cellphone. It rang and no one answered. Finally the service came on and he frowned. Where the hell was Justin and why wasn't he answering his cell?

Putting that mystery aside for the moment, he went back into the kitchen and slapped together a bargain basement turkey sandwich. Beer in hand, he returned to the family room and put his feet up on the coffee table. Flipped on the television and watched a Cary Grant film on TCM. Justin would probably be home soon enough. In the meanwhile he'd watch Cary and Ingrid Bergman cope with her marriage to a Nazi.

Notorious went off and another Cary Grant movie came on. Still no Justin. Just as he was about to dial his cell again, he heard the doorbell. Jesus, he hoped it wasn't Lindz wanting him to baby-sit. He loved Gus but he really wasn't in the mood today. But it probably wasn't her, she usually called first to make sure he didn't have other plans. A holdover from his party days, he guessed, when she couldn't be sure he'd be at home. Or unoccupied.

Dragging himself to the reception hall, he decided to forgo the intercom. Threw open the front door and found two policemen standing on the other side of the threshold. Any snide comment he'd been about to make died on his lips. In fact, he couldn't speak at all. It felt as if his entire body had been frozen in nitrogen. Except for his heart. It raced at about a thousand miles an hour.

One of the officers spoke. She looked young, probably just out of the academy. She had blue eyes. Like Justin's. "Sir, are you Brian Kinney?"

He found his voice. "Yes."

"And you live here with a Justin Taylor-Kinney?"

Lips quivering, he nodded instead of speaking.

The man, older with a grim look on his lined face, said, "We're sorry, Mr. Kinney, but—"

He walked away from them.

"Sir?" the female officer called.

He kept walking. Maybe if he walked far enough, he could move beyond the pain. But he knew that wasn't possible. So he paused by the fountain and waited for them to come in and tear his house down. Before they could tell him, he asked, "How?" One word but it took all of his strength to voice the solitary syllable.

The man answered his question. "He was attacked. He was…" the man looked down at the water running over the edge of the red basin of the fountain. "He was beaten to death."

The world tilted at a crazy angle and Brian fell to the floor, grabbing at the edge of the fountain, his fingers splashing in the water which had suddenly turned red.

"No!" he yelled, coming awake all of a sudden. Cold sweat beaded his brow and his chest worked furiously. The comforter was gnarled in his fist. "Oh, God," he moaned and covered his mouth. He trembled, unable to shake the dream. For a moment he hadn't been sure what day it was, had been certain that it wasn't the Saturday before Thanksgiving and that Justin wouldn't be coming back. A tear ran down his cheek and he wiped it away. He ached, ached as if he had answered that door and had heard that Justin had been beaten to death. Ached because the dream seemed to have the force of prophesy and he was all too afraid that one day he would open the door and everything would crumble down around him.

Justin's excitement aided him in his ruse, as he groused and pretended to assume the mantle he normally wore at the holidays. Namely that of a Scrooge who'd never been visited by the spirits. Only today he had an extra reason for being in a bad mood: the dream. It still caught him unawares at the oddest moments and forced him to make excuses for why he suddenly had to go do something in the other room. Once out of Justin's sight, he would shake until he thought he'd fall apart.

He didn't know what to do. He'd promised Justin that he'd let him deal with the problems at the Institute and he wanted to keep his word. He believed in Justin, believed that he was capable to handling his issues but, at the same time, he was terrified. Still, he had to trust Justin to do what was right not only for himself but for them both.

"You okay?" Justin asked, having found Brian seated on the back staircase staring out at nothing through the open side door.

"Just resting."

"You've been kinda quiet."

"You talk enough for the both of us."

Justin felt his forehead then leaned over and pecked him on the cheek. "What is it?"

"Nothing," he lied.

Figuring Brian would tell him when he was ready, Justin let go. "So what do you want for dinner?"

"I'm not really hungry."

"Turkey sandwich?"

"No," said Brian a lot more forcefully than he'd intended.

Justin stared at him. "You gonna tell me what it is or do I have to drag it out of you?"

"I told you—"

"Yeah, I know, it's nothing."

Before he could quiz Brian any further, Gus came running up with Leo down behind him. "Daddy, I'm hungry."

"You want a banana?"

The little boy shook his head. "Hot dog."

Taking Gus' hand, Justin promised, "This isn't over."

Brian hadn't thought so. He knew how Justin got when he thought Brian was keeping something from him. He was worse than a hyena: he'd clamp his jaws and wouldn't let go. Brian supposed his tenacity was one of the reasons he'd fallen in love with him. So what should he tell him? If he told him the truth, they were only liable to get into yet another pointless argument. However, if he lied, and Justin found out—as he would eventually—then they'd have two arguments: one about Diversity Week and another about Brian having lied to him.

About to come out of his skin, he went upstairs and changed into his running clothes. Stopped by the kitchen to tell Justin he was restless and was going out. Gus, of course, wanted to go too but Justin distracted him with the promise of a ride around the neighborhood tomorrow morning on his trike.

Brian sliced through the early evening with the ease of a phantom. The sun had almost set so he was doubly glad he'd worn his pullover with the reflective stripe around the chest and back. Justin had insisted he buy the damn thing once he'd begun entertaining the idea of running in their neighborhood instead of on his treadmill. "I don’t want a cop showing up at our door telling me you've been flattened by a Beemer."

At the time he'd laughed off Justin's concern but had gotten the damn pullover anyway to appease his partner. So why couldn't he ask Justin to do the same thing: to take precautions? Only he had asked him to do that and Justin had promised. What more could either of them do?

Putting those thoughts from his head, he concentrated on his run. When he was younger, running was one of the ways he had escaped his problems, whether he was playing soccer or just doing laps around the track. To know that there was one thing he controlled: his body, had been a powerful tool against despair. Even after going ten rounds with the old man, he could put on his running shoes and do fifteen miles and he'd feel less confined. Not quite free, but it would come. While he was running, he could assure himself that one day he'd be free.

Now he was free, free of Jack but he still had plenty of other problems to keep him running. Namely, what to do about Justin.

He gradually slowed down and then jogged in place for a moment before stopping entirely. There was no way in hell he wanted to tell Justin about the dream he'd had but what other choice did he have? If he lied to Justin now, eventually his partner would find out and they'd have an even bigger argument. But if he told Justin about the dream, the young artist would probably feel guilty that he'd caused Brian such pain. If only that were enough to change his path, but it wasn't. He'd feel guilty and he'd deal with the guilt but it wouldn't stop him from going forward with his plans for Diversity Week. The event had begun to take on the air of inevitability.

Justin and Gus were seated at the table eating when he returned from his run. Yelling that he'd join them after his shower, he went upstairs and stood under the water just long enough to wash the stink from his body, then hastily dressed in a pair of lounge pants sans briefs. They hadn't turned on the central heating yet but they did light the fire in the family room fireplace most evenings to take the chill out of the air so he didn't bother putting on any shoes or a top with sleeves. Hoping against hope that he didn't have to actually eat a hot dog for dinner, he came down the stairs to find Justin at the grill turning over a steak. Obviously for his husband as it was still rather rare and Justin refused to eat steak that wasn't a second away from shoe leather.

Pecking Justin on the cheek with a, "Thanks, Baby," Brian went in and found Gus still seated at the table munching away on his second hot dog. Leo sat in an empty chair next to him and Brian suspected that despite their warnings to the contrary, the toddler had probably fed Leo some of his food after Justin had gone into the kitchen.

With crumbs falling out of his mouth, Gus said, "Hi, Daddy."

"Hey, Sonny Boy. That good?" Gus nodded and continued eating. As he watched Gus consume his fries and franks, Brian thought about what his life might have been like without Justin. He doubted he would have ever been any kind of father to Gus if Justin hadn't been there to add his nudging to Lindsay's. There wouldn't have been any taking Gus to see Santa Claus or reading him bedtime stories or riding around the neighborhood on his tricycle. There wouldn't have been any neighborhood as Brian wouldn't have bought a house. He'd been more than content with his loft. But with Gus and Justin needing additional space, the loft had been woefully inadequate to house their family.

Their family. There wouldn't have been a family without Justin. Without being aware of his actions, he screwed his face up in pain.

"What is it?" Justin asked as he brought in his steak. "And don't tell me it's nothing."

Brian looked down at his plate. "Mind if we talk about it later?"


He looked up again. "Promise." There was no point in hiding what had become painfully obvious.

After dinner and cleaning detail, they all three curled up on the sofa and watched "Happy Thanksgiving, Charlie Brown." Gus loved it, as did Justin and, secretly, Brian. Laughing uproariously as Snoopy wrestled with a lawn chair, they even sang "Over the River" with the Peanuts gang. At least Justin and Brian did, Gus didn't know the words. Pointing to the screen at the dinner Snoopy served, Gus asked, "We eating popcorn?"

"Tonight?" asked Justin, amazed that Gus could be hungry after putting away two hot dogs and a hand full of fries.

"Thanksgiving," the toddler told him.

Justin smiled and Brian bit his lip. After all this time, Justin's smile still had the power to make him feel hopelessly in love. "No," Justin told Gus. "But we're having turkey, and mashed potatoes, and corn, and green beans, and salad, and apple pie, and chocolate cake—"

"Yea!" yelled Gus who loved chocolate cake almost as much as his daddy did. "Leo have some cake?"

"It'll make his tummy hurt," Justin said. "He can have some turkey though. I bet he'll like turkey."

"Yeah," said Gus, stroking the cat's fur until Leo purred.

"Ready for your bath?"

"Daddy get in?"

Lifting him in his arms, Justin said, "I'll get in." He glanced over his shoulder at Brian. "You coming?"

"Just took a shower," he replied.

"Daddy, come on," ordered Gus looking most petulant.

Brian shook his head. "You go ahead without me."

Accepting his answer as final, Justin carried Gus upstairs. Leo decided to forgo the stairs for now and curled up next to Brian to sleep.

With Leo as his only companion, Brian tried to come up with a way to tell Justin the reason why he'd been so morose. More than facing that challenge alone, he struggled to find a way to free himself from his dream, from the fear it had instilled in him. He couldn't lose Justin.

Gus looked up and waved as Brian came into the bathroom. He and Justin were still playing in the tub and he was hopeful that his other daddy had come to join them. But Brian merely sat on the toilet top and watched them with a wistful smile on his face. After a few minutes, he left.

That was Justin's cue to call a halt to playtime. Against Gus' wishes, he opened the drain and got out. Dried Gus off first and then himself; gave the toddler a hand with his pajamas; and got Gus to help him clean up the bathroom. With the room somewhat in order, he tucked Gus into bed and read to him for a while, the little boy's attention flagging until his lids closed and he was asleep.

The lights were off except for two lamps on the nightstands. Brian was sitting in bed with the covers pulled up to his waist. He drew them back on Justin's side and waited for his husband to join him. Stripping off his sweats, Justin got in and kissed Brian's shoulder.

With no preamble, Brian began to explain. "I had a dream. That you had died. You were killed." He added, "Murdered." Glanced away. "You'd been beaten to death."

"Brian…" Justin felt chilled by Brian's words. No wonder Brian had been freaked out all afternoon. "It was just a dream."

"It's not just a dream!" he said hotly. "I watched him hurt you."

Chris Hobbs.

"But I'm still here."

"Until the next time."

"There won't be a next time."

Brian ran his hand over his jaw. "I know that nothing I say will make a difference."

"That's not—"

"So I won't bother." He stared down at his hands, imagined a razor being drawn down his forearms, blood staining his skin.

As if he knew what Brian was thinking, Justin slipped his arms around him. "I would never leave you behind," he told him.

Brian pulled away and left the bed, grabbed his robe and walked out onto the loggia despite the chill in the night air. He heard Justin open the door and close it behind him and averted his eyes, not wanting his partner to see the gleam in them, knowing Justin would correctly deduce that he'd been on the verge of tears. But Justin knew anyway without seeing his eyes and gently stroked his arm.

"I know you're scared. I'm scared too. But you taught me to stand up for myself—"

"That wasn't me."

"Yes, it was," he insisted. Then explained, "Loving you gave me the courage to do a lot of things that maybe I wouldn't have on my own." Lifting Brian's head by the chin, he said, "I need to do this. It's just as important as you walking into the prom not knowing what would happen."

"And look what happened." A baseball bat to the head.

"We got together." Justin smiled and wiped a tear from Brian's cheek with his finger but Brian couldn't return his smile and he knew it. "Come back to bed."

"I'm not sleepy."

Giving Brian a very different smile, Justin said, "I didn't say anything about sleep."

Still, Brian resisted. "We haven't settled anything."

"I know." Drawing Brian's head down, he kissed him softly. "Can't we fight tomorrow?" he asked, running his fingers over Brian's bearded cheek. He knew how calming his touch was to Brian so he continued until the man sighed and held open the French door for him.

Lying to Brian was not one of his favorite pastimes but if he told him about the second letter, there was no way in hell Brian would allow him to continue with Diversity Week, no way in hell he'd let him go off to the Institute by himself on a Sunday afternoon. Ignorant of the letter's existence, Brian, however, did not stop Justin from leaving his perfectly fine studio in their perfectly beautiful house no matter how strange it seemed to him.

Brian supposed that Justin needed a change of scenery. He often did himself when it came to work. Inspiration didn't always strike in his office. Sometimes an idea came to him as he showered or as he drove to pick up Gus or as he walked to a nearby deli for lunch. He expected it worked the same for Justin. So he only kissed his partner goodbye and went upstairs to his study where he began going through a pile of art and photography magazines that he'd been meaning to peruse. Now that both Justin and Gus were gone, he thought he might actually get through them.

As it usually did whenever he had a moment of peace to himself, the phone rang. Maybe it was Justin calling to see if he wanted him to pick up anything on the way home although they could have gotten it when they took Gus back to the Munchers. "Yeah?" he asked, flipping through a cover story on Cindy Sherman.

"Brian," hesitation, "this is Xavier."

"I recognized the voice. What's up?" He tried to keep the tension out of his voice. After all, they were on friendly terms despite the fuck-ups of last year.

"Look, Brian, J's in trouble."

Instantly, he was alert. It often amazed people that Brian could go from 0 to 60 in less than five seconds but he was always ready, for whatever, full of kinetic potential. "What do you mean?"

"He got another letter from those assholes who threatened him."


"Wednesday." Xavier knew that Brian's brain would be furiously working, trying to come up with a plan of action. "He'll be pissed as hell that I dropped the dime on him but I thought you should know."

"You read it?"

"He wouldn’t show it to me but he told me that it said, 'No more warnings.' "

"Fuck." Brian stood and began pacing, then stopped, making himself stand deliberately still even though his heart and mind continued to race about madly. "You at the Institute?"

"Not for long. I'm going out with Rennie."

"You see Justin?"

"Earlier. That's why I called. I figured he hadn't told you about the letter."

Even though he wanted to scream, Brian said quite calmly, "Thanks. For letting me know."

"He didn't mean to lie to you," Xavier explained. "He just wanted to take care of things himself."

"Yeah," Brian said, then nothing more. No one had to analyze Justin's actions for him.

The conversation was over. As Xavier closed his cell, he wondered if he'd done the right thing. Justin would explode when he found out what Xavier had done but if it saved him from another extended hospital stay, so be it.

Long legs covering the distance in a few steps, Brian grabbed a jacket from the closet and headed downstairs taking the stairs two at a time. He was going to find Justin and when he did—He took a deep breath. Calm down, Kinney. You can't kill him. No, he couldn't kill him but anything short of that was definitely on his "To Do" list.

He'd only been at the Institute for a couple of hours but he was already missing Brian and so he packed his stuff and got ready to go. Also, he was beginning to regret his decision not to tell Brian about the letter he'd received. It was eating him up inside, lying to Brian. They'd promised to be honest with one another about everything, yet here he was withholding vital information. No matter his reasons, he was wrong and it was time to right that situation. Just as he was about to sling his bag over his shoulder, the door opened and he knew that time had run out.

Four people stood between him and the only exit out of the studio. They varied in height and weight but all had the same faces: George Dubuya Bush. He felt as if he were trapped in a Fellini film where the absurd suddenly became but a reflection of reality. His heart pounded against the walls of his chest and he wondered if he would have the chance to tell Brian he was sorry. With that thought, fear became anger.

What right did they have to dictate to him? To try and intimidate him? To try and ruin not only his work at the Institute but his life with Brian as well. No one was going to do that, not as long as he could draw breath. Furious, he shouted, "Who are you? Show your faces!"

They did not speak, only took a step forward. Involuntarily, Justin stepped backwards, then stopped.

"Fuckin' cowards! Hiding behind masks. Why don't you show yourselves?"

Brian came running towards the closed door when he heard Justin's voice. He started to tear it open when Justin spoke again.

"Look at you. You're like children, playing at some game."

"This is no game," one of them said. A man.

"So why act like little kids? Why not talk to me?"

"We've tried. You wouldn't listen."

"I wouldn't be threatened. Or dictated to. There's a difference."

His hand flat on the door panel, Brian debated his options. If he rushed in to save Justin and he didn't need saving, Justin would be angry beyond belief. But if hesitated and something happened to Justin, he'd never forgive himself. He trembled, terrified by his indecision.

Inside, Justin continued to speak. "Whatever happened to free speech? The right to express yourself? That's what artists are supposed to fight for. Even if you don't agree with what's being said."

"Why should we?" Another voice this time, still male but different from the first. "They don't listen to us. They don't care. So why should we?"

"Because if we don't, then who'll speak for us when we can't?"

Brian smiled softly. That was his partner.

"It's not about the people on either end, it's about the people in the middle. The ones sitting on the fence. The ones who are afraid of being noticed, of speaking out. If we show them that we care, then maybe they'll begin to care too. And maybe instead of sitting on the fence, they'll join us. But if it's a choice between the lesser of two evils, then they'll always be afraid, they'll always stay out of the fight. And we can't do it alone."

"That's easy for you to say."

"Is it?" He pointed to a faint scar on his forehead. "That's where he hit me. I'll carry that scar for the rest of my life. And deal with the headaches and the dreams and the fear. You think I didn't feel hatred? I wanted to kill him. I wanted to make him pay for what he'd done to me."

"So you forgave him?"

"I try. Every time I think about him I try. Maybe someday I will. But I can't punish everyone, I can't hate the world for what one person did to me."

Inside the studio, one of the quartet of masked vigilantes said, "Maybe you're right." He paused. "I'm sorry."

Justin nodded. "That's a beginning." And waited.

The young man reached up and pushed his mask back over his head.

Taking a deep breath, Brian turned from the door and walked away. Justin could handle things without his help.

Over dinner, Justin told Brian about the second letter and the day's confrontation. "I didn't mean to lie to you, I just didn't want you to worry. And after that dream you had, I couldn't tell you about the letter." Thinking Brian would be mad at him, Justin was surprised when he took his hand and entwined his fingers with his.

"I heard you today. In your studio. Talking with those kids."

"How did you—"

"Xavier called. Told me about the letter and I went barreling down there to save you." He kissed Justin's fingers. "But you didn't need saving. I'm proud of you." He smiled ruefully. "You're a good man. A strong man." Brian started to withdraw his hand. "I guess I'll have to learn to let go."

But Justin retained his grip on his hand. "Don't. Don't ever let go." A smile lit his face and the room. "Maybe you could hold on a little less tightly though."

"It's a deal."

Justin grinned. "Except when we're fucking," he added.

"Goes without saying," Brian replied.

"Speaking of which—"

"You're always speaking. How about you shut up and we do this?" He stood and tugged on Justin's hand.

Laughing, Justin said, "How romantic," but he allowed Brian to pull him from the table and into his arms. Which was where he always wanted to be.

Justin's last minute errands yesterday had him tired even after eight hours of sleep. He'd taken Wednesday off to help his spouse and had regretted it as they "popped into" yet another store on Justin's endless quest for a suitable punch bowl. Nothing would do but that he find the exact punchbowl he'd envisioned in his head despite the fact that his vision was rather myopic. Finally, Brian had suggested they visit the shop where they'd purchased Molly's chocolate set.

The owner still was a queen and he still had the best instincts in the world when it came to satisfying Justin's vague decorating desires. "I've got just the thing," he'd said and he disappeared into a room and brought out a punch bowl with twelve cups. The bowl had reminded Brian of nothing so much as a giant tulip, opened completely. However it was shaped, it apparently fit Justin's requirements.

"It's perfect!" he had exclaimed, having a queenie moment big time by Brian's estimation. Still, he'd been happy that Justin was happy. Seeing Justin smile went a long ways towards brightening most of his days and for that he was grateful.

This morning, however, the bright smile that greeted him was, in his opinion, way too bright for this early in the day. Brian shielded his eyes and groaned. "I need a drink."

"How about mimosas?" asked Justin. "And a couple of Belgian waffles?"

"On Thanksgiving? I'll explode by the time the day is over."

"We're not eating dinner until three. Come on." He tugged on Brian's arm. "You can make the mimosas while I cook."

Brian pulled Justin back down for a very long and intense kiss. "Breakfast in bed?" he asked as his partner began to stroke him, Brian having enflamed his passions.

"Breakfast in bed," Justin agreed and then reluctantly left off stroking Brian's cock. The sooner they fixed their meal, the sooner they could come back and eat and play.

"Lie still," Justin ordered and Brian endeavored to do so but the syrup his lover had poured over his cock tickled on the way down his shaft and he giggled a little. Which didn't make Justin's job of topping him off with whipped cream any easier. Finally, he managed to spoon a dab onto the tip of Brian's dick. It remained in place for a moment and then slipped down the already sweet shaft. Giving up, Justin put aside the bowl of cream and concentrated on enticing Brian to give up a little cream of his own.

As Justin's lips slid down his shaft, Brian moaned. Fuck yeah.

Justin was in heaven. If there was anything better than Brian's cock on its own, it was Brian's cock covered in blackberry syrup and whipped cream. Justin licked and sucked and lapped Brian's dick clean, then picked up the small pitcher of syrup and poured more over the throbbing length.

Brian could feel the syrup and cream seeping down over his balls, down between his cheeks. Christ, he couldn't imagine what it would feel like when Justin's tongue started cleaning him up down there. As is, he couldn't hardly think with Justin's mouth roaming over his cock.

Running a finger through the cream, Justin applied it to the tip of Brian's dick, making sure his slit was well-covered. Then he closed his lips tight around his shaft and sucked him hard, tongue lashing the swollen head until Brian started bucking beneath him. Instead of releasing him, he only redoubled his efforts until Brian began producing syrup of his own. A gush of precum mixed with the cream making Justin moan around Brian's dick. He let the head free, then rubbed it over his lips, his tongue flickering over the hot and sticky surface, before taking it back inside. He wanted to feel Brian's cock head bump against the roof of his mouth.

Brian arched his back, sliding his cock deeper inside Justin's mouth, then cupped his balls and tugged down on them. He was so close to coming and he wanted to keep going, snared by Justin's talents.

Having cleaned his cock of syrup and cream, Justin had Brian turn over and raise his hips. Then, his lover spread out before him, he licked his ass, tongue digging in his sticky hole, lapping over his balls. He licked a trail between Brian's balls and his hole, then spent no few minutes teasing his ass, the tip of his tongue playing in the folds until Brian's breathing quickened and his hole began to spasm. While he pleasured Brian, he was all too aware of his own hard-on, bouncing before him, precum dripping from the tip. Giving it a few strokes, he let go. He didn't want to drop his load on the bed. He wanted to fuck Brian and come in his ass, come up his hole, come on his ass, and rub his cum into his skin, mixing it with cream and syrup.

Brian shuddered as Justin rubbed his cock up the crack of his ass. The head pushed against his hole and he moaned and felt the opening pucker up even more. Then he felt a finger touch the center of his hole and push. He gripped the comforter and tried to relax as Justin slowly opened him up.

"You're so tight," Justin whispered. "Let me in."

Brian groaned and felt his hole give and Justin's finger slip inside. At first it stung as his body adjusted and then as his hole relaxed, he grew hungrier and wanted more.

Supporting himself on one elbow, Justin lay above and slightly to the side of Brian, his right leg over Brian's left, and worked his finger in and out of his hole. After a while, a second finger joined the first. He felt Brian tense and then it seemed as if his lover's entire body opened up to him. Fingers slick with lube and syrup and cream, Justin pleasured his man, responding to the sighs and cries that Brian uttered as he shivered on the bed. Sometimes he went deep inside his ass, down to the last knuckle, savoring the moist warmth of husband's body; other times he merely entered him enough to hook his fingers on the rim of his ass. No matter the depth, it gave him great pleasure to know that he was the reason Brian was trembling, shaking, and groaning.

Brian reached back and caught Justin's arm. He was panting so hard, he could barely speak.

Justin leaned closer and licked his neck. "What?"

"Fuck me."

He wiggled his fingers inside Brian and listened to him cry out. "You want me to fuck you?"

"Yes," came the breathy response.

Justin climbed onto Brian's back, parted his legs and positioned his cock against Brian's hole. Rotating his hips, he ground his cock against the wrinkled opening until it was wet with his precum. Then he pushed.

Brian's hole stretched to accommodate Justin's girth. He felt dizzy, filled with Justin's cock. He didn't know what he would do if he couldn't feel this: Justin's breath on his neck and his dick lodged in his ass. It made him feel alive.

"Is everything perfect?" Brian asked as Justin surveyed the dining room. They had the table set for twelve and had the children's table dressed as well for three. In anticipation of having more guests than available services, they'd decided to put their everyday dishes on the kids' table as they wouldn't notice or care. They'd also been saved in that Jeff couldn't make it. He was out on assignment and wouldn't be back for days, which meant they had just enough places at the main table for all their guests. If Craig showed up. Which both of them doubted.

Rather than dwelling on that, Justin asked, "You think Gus is gonna sit at the table with John and Peter?"

"I think he'll probably end up in my lap," as that was the little boy's favorite place in the world to be.

"Tell him he has to be a good host."

"Speaking of which," said Brian, "I'd better check the wine."

"And the turkey," Justin added, following him out of the room. While Brian assayed the amount of wine in the beverage center, Justin peeked inside the oven. So far so good. It only had an hour to go and then they could take it out and let it rest while their guests munched on appetizers. If everyone arrived when they were supposed to.

"Are you kidding?" asked Brian. "Those freeloaders won't pass up an opportunity to eat us out of house and home."

"They're not coming empty-handed."

"We'll see." He couldn't resist adding, "What's your dad bringing?"

"Hopefully a better attitude."

"Dreamer." If there was anyone more bad-tempered than himself now that Jack Kinney was gone, it was definitely Craig Taylor.

"Just don't antagonize him, okay?"

"I'll be a perfect angel," he said, his smile like a country back road.

"I'll settle for half the asshole you normally are."

"Hey. I thought you liked me being an asshole."

"No, I like your asshole."

"No, you love it." Least that's what Justin had said that morning as he'd pumped him.

"That I do," smirked Justin.

"Then be nice or you won't get any tonight."

"You mean you're up for more?" He thought he'd done a pretty good job of fucking Brian this morning and that Brian's ass would be sore for days.

"Bring it on, little boy," Brian told him and cupped his crotch, feeling the fullness there. He kissed Justin, slipping his tongue inside his mouth.

"If you get me hard, you'll have to take care of it before our guests get here."

Unzipping Justin's pants, Brian grinned and went down on his knees. Not a problem.

Mel and Lindsay were the first to arrive as Gus couldn't wait any longer to see his daddies. And Leo. After quickly kissing Brian and Justin, Gus ran upstairs to find the cat. They figured they see him again when he got hungry.

"I've been replaced by a cat," Brian moaned.

"Everybody loves pussy," joked Mel earning her a groan from both Brian and Justin.

"What can we do?" Lindsay asked, cheeks pink, hoping to divert the conversation before it ventured too far down the yellow, smut road.

"Sit down, have a drink, and relax," replied Justin.

Brian brought in a tray of crab puffs hot out of the oven. "Eat." The doorbell rang. "Too late. Michael and Em are here. You had your chance." He went to let in his friends and, as he'd predicted, it was Michael and Em and Ted, followed by Vic and Deb, all with their hands full. Not far behind were Joanie, Claire, and the two offspring of Satan. Joanie was toting a cake carrier, protecting it as if it were the Pope's staff. "Chocolate?" he asked her hopefully.

"Chocolate chocolate chip. Your favorite."

"I love you."

Joanie's eyes misted. "You know, when you were a little boy, that's the only time you'd tell me you loved me. When I made chocolate chocolate chip cake." She smiled despite the twinge of pain. "I guess it was the only time you probably felt I loved you."

Brian leaned over and kissed her. "Doesn't matter anymore." Caught his sister's eye. "Sis."

"Thanks for having us."

"Actually, I'm planning on having turkey but if you want to gnaw on one another, be my guest."

Claire popped his arm. "Brian."

"Hey, demon spawn," he said to his nephews.


"Hey, Uncle Brian," said Peter, echoed by John.

"Gus is upstairs if you want to go hang out in his room."

With the kids taken care of for the moment, the adults divested themselves of the items they'd brought and then gathered in the family room to talk while Brian and Justin got busy heating the things that needed heating before putting all of the food in their serving dishes and loading up the cart to take them to the dining room. They'd purchased the cart in anticipation of Thanksgiving to see if it would suffice or if other arrangements might be necessary. Fending off offers of aid from their guests, they scurried past them and into the dining room. They worked quickly and within minutes the food was put out: main course items on the table and dessert on the buffet. In addition to Joanie's cake there were Lindsay's pumpkin and apple pies and pecan pies Em had made using his Aunt Lula's famous recipe. When everything was ready, they called in their guests. Brian flicked on the intercom and buzzed Gus' room.

Even though Gus couldn't operate the intercom, he could hear his daddy talking to him and listened to what he told him before acting. Herding his cousins downstairs, he ran into the dining room excitedly and stood amazed by the food and shiny glasses and silverware. He patted Brian's leg and said "Pretty, Daddy."

Brian knelt and hugged him. "It is pretty, isn't it?" Justin had done a fabulous job. He showed Gus the kiddies' table and the little boy sat down in his chair and called his cousins over. Despite the teasing he'd endured at their hands on his birthday, he seemed to be willing to forgive and forget and had let them play with his toys upstairs—although he'd been careful not to let them touch his favorite ones and Leo remained off-limits.

"Oh, my God, everything is so beautiful," Deb exclaimed as the grown-ups seated themselves around a table that sparkled with crystal.

"That's what money can do," Ted commented.

"Not money," Brian corrected, "taste." He looked Ted's outfit up and down. "Something you seem to be woefully lacking in."

Justin poked him in the side. "Be nice. It's Thanksgiving."

"Okay," Brian said, "I'm thankful I have better taste than Theodore and my hope is that he'll eventually learn from my fabulous example."

Ted forestalled any further interference from Justin by saying, "It's okay. In a strange sort of way, I welcome his put-downs. Least it shows he cares."

Once everyone had taken their seats, Justin stood and began to speak. He was much better at the touchy feely stuff than Brian and the man was happy to let him do the welcoming duties. "We're really glad you could all join us for—" The doorbell rang. He exchanged looks with Brian who raised a brow and gestured towards the front door. Justin went to answer and found Craig standing outside looking rather sheepish. "We didn't think you'd make it," Justin told him.

"I fell asleep and forgot to set the alarm clock." He handed Justin a bowl. "Cranberry relish. The lady at the gourmet shop said it was the best."

Justin squeezed his dad's arm and led him to the dining room. "Come on, we were just about to start." Craig took his place in the chair they'd left empty for him next to Justin and nodded his greetings to everyone else. Handing off the relish to Brian, Justin waited until his spouse had placed it in an empty serving bowl before starting again. "We're really glad you could all join us for Thanksgiving, for the first Thanksgiving in our house." He smiled. "It's been a great year and we're glad you could come and celebrate with us."

Brian thought about Kenneth and what had happened in Birmingham, thought about Justin being attacked at school and, amazingly, those things didn't seem to matter. Not today. He smiled as he took in their faces.

"Lindsay started a tradition two Thanksgivings ago that we'd like to continue. So we're going to go around the table and have everyone say what they're thankful for this year. And, no, Brian, your cut on Ted doesn't count," he said before Brian could ask. When the laughter died down, he sat and got the ball rolling. "I’m thankful that I have a husband who loves me enough to let me be the person I need to be." He added, "Even if that person is a pain in the behind," in honor of Thanksgiving, "sometimes."

"Sometimes?" asked Brian and they all laughed. There wasn't a person in the room, except maybe Craig and Claire and her bunch, who hadn't seen Brian and Justin go ten rounds at the drop of a dime. And it wasn't always Brian's fault. A two drama queen household made for some interesting encounters.

Other highlights included Michael's, "I'm thankful Jeff decided to stay in Pittsburgh, even though he's not here today and we haven't had sex in two days."

Mel called to Brian, "Do you even know what that feels like?" and he made the sign of the cross to ward off evil.

Before Brian got in his thanks, they did the kids and Gus amused everyone when he said he was thankful that his Daddy had bought him a new toy.

Giving Brian the eye, Lindz demanded to know what he'd bought him since his birthday had only been two months ago. "You spoil him," she told him.

So Brian huffed and said, "Show them your toy, Gus."

The little boy took a puppet out of his pocket and put it on his finger. Giggled as he wiggled the finger puppet tiger around and growled.

Face reddened, Lindsay laughed into her napkin.

At last they'd gotten to Brian. As he had in previous years, he put all jokes aside and spoke from his heart. He could do that with these people, with his family. After years of hiding, he could finally be who he was, no excuses, no masks. "I'm thankful for a lot of things but I guess the one thing I'm most grateful for," he paused, "is that Justin said, 'Yes.' " He raised his wineglass. "Happy Thanksgiving."

His partner and their guests raised their glasses as well. "Happy Thanksgiving."

Justin had his dad carve the turkey since Craig was an expert at carving and it was a way for him to interact with folks without feeling awkward.

"He's really good," Vic commented to Justin and Brian sotto voce as Brian went around taking pictures.

"I'm glad he rammed me with his car instead of coming after me with a butcher's knife."

"So am I," said Justin. "I love your balls," he whispered in his ear before biting the lobe.

"Behave," Brian admonished, "or I'm gonna take you upstairs and fuck your brains out."

"We could use the downstairs bathroom," Justin suggested.

"If you give me a hard-on, you are so in trouble."

"Hey!" yelled Deb. "Stop groping each other and get back to dinner."

Dutifully they sat, casting longing looks at one another over the centerpiece.

Gus left the children's table and wanted to sit with Brian.

"Gus, you have your own chair and your own plate," Brian explained.

"I wanna sit with you, Daddy."

"There's no room."

The toddler began to pout, the prelude to a full-fledged crying session.

Attempting to head one off, Brian took him out into the reception hall and sat him on the steps to talk to him.

"Uh-oh," intoned Em.

They were gone for a minute or so and everyone strained to hear what Brian was saying but couldn't. When they returned, Gus still seemed disappointed but he took his seat at the kiddie table and began eating his food.

"What'd you tell him?" Claire asked, amazed that the episode hadn't degenerated into a shouting match the way it would have when they were kids and dealing with Jack.

"I told him he could sit with me when we had dessert. I never eat all mine anyway."

"You never eat all of your food period," Joanie pointed out. "You're too skinny."

"That's what my mom says," Justin told her. "But he won't eat. He's afraid of gaining even an ounce."

"I have to fit into my Armani."

"What a queen," ragged Mel.

True to his word, when dessert time rolled around, Brian let Gus sit on his lap and help him eat his cake and pie. Gus loved Joanie's chocolate chocolate chip cake. "Good?" Brian asked.

"Yeah." His face was smeared with chocolate as were his fingers as he'd abandoned his fork. Brian took hold of Gus' hand and kissed the chocolate from his fingers, causing Gus to giggle uncontrollably.

Watching them on their way to the kitchen to refill the pitchers of iced water, Craig said to Justin, "He's a good father."

"Which is a miracle considering the way his father treated him." At Craig's inquiring look, he explained. "His dad abused him."

"Sexually?" Craig asked, almost afraid to hear the answer even though, to his way of thinking, it would explain a lot.

"Everything but. He beat him, belittled him, was always cutting him down. Nothing Brian did was ever good enough for him. And then after Brian got older and became successful, his dad would come around looking for money. Brian always gave it to him even though he knew he'd never get it back and even after all the things his dad had done to him."

"He doesn't seem like the type to forgive and forget."

Justin paused. "He's not. He's gotten burned one too many times."

Craig thought about his own behavior at Justin's graduation party, how he'd torn into Brian even after Brian had saved Justin's life. He still didn't know what had made him do that, but he didn't think he could have controlled himself even if he'd tried. The anger had been that great. The fear that they could have lost Justin.

"He expects a lot out of people," Justin explained, "but he doesn't hold his breath thinking they'll do the right thing." Justin finished dumping the tray of ice into the pitcher. "Still, he's the one who usually gets hurt because he can't help but hope that they will."

Head bowed so as not to see his son's eyes, Craig said, "I wish I'd been a better father."

"There were worse," Justin said with a slight grin as his father looked up in surprise. "I won't lie to you. I kinda hated you for a while. Especially after what you said to Brian." At his graduation party. "You really hurt him. He suffered too when I got bashed."

"I know." Although he'd missed Brian's testimony during the trial, he'd learned from Jenn just how much they'd both been affected by the bashing. "And I'm sorry for what I said."

Justin paused with the pitcher of ice water in his hands. "I’m glad you came."

"Me too."

Just as it threatened to become what Brian called "an Oprah moment", Gus came running into the room, holding out his chocolate stained hands. "Daddy! I got to wash!"

Craig lifted him to the sink and held him as he washed his hands. When Gus was done, he kissed his grandfather on the cheek. "Hey, Granddaddy."


"I love you," he whispered and Craig, surprised by how much he felt for Brian's son, whispered back, "I love you too."

As usual, it took all of their persuasive powers to get Gus to go home with his mommies. Not that he didn't love the women just as much as he loved his daddies, but he lived with Mel and Lindsay so any time he got to spend with Brian and Justin was extra special. But his parents held firm, all four of them, and he resigned himself to going home. Only he was a lot less sad as Brian took him aside and promised that he could spend a whole week with them at Christmas and he and Justin would take him to see Santa Claus.

Gus rubbed Brian's face and said, "Daddy look like Santa Claus."

"Why?" asked Brian.

"You got a beerd," he answered and Brian ho, ho, hoed until Gus laughed himself silly.

Their guests gone, the two men went about cleaning up the house, having refused any help from their friends and family. It was easier for them to do it themselves than to direct others. Besides, they wanted to be alone, no matter the circumstances.

It surprised Brian sometimes that he could be content just being in the same room with Justin. Even if they said nothing to each other, it comforted him to know that Justin was nearby. Elbow-deep in suds, washing their china by hand, he was grateful that he hadn't spent the holiday alone the way he used to years ago when he hadn't believed in anything but fucking. He was grateful that Justin hadn't believed him, that the teen had persisted in pursuing him until he'd gotten his man.

"Hey, maybe Mikey and Jeff will get married and we can have dinner at their place next year," Justin said, breaking the silence.


"You don't think they're gonna last that long, do you?"

Brian shrugged. "Look at us. If we can make it, anyone can."

But Justin disagreed. "We were meant to be together."

"Made for each other?" teased Brian. Justin had said it more than once in the past.


Brian kissed him, then held him close, his lover ignoring the suds soaking into his shirt. "Maybe you're right." Brushed his lips over his cheek. "How about we leave the rest of this for tomorrow?"

"You're so smart," Justin told him, stroking the hair at the nape of his neck.

"Married you, didn't I?

"I had to beg you to," Justin reminded him, remembering the big blow-up they'd had about getting married.

But Brian shook his head. "All you had to do was ask." Which was true. Once Justin had asked, he'd said yes, without hesitation.

Upstairs, they stripped in the closet and Justin espied the costume Em had created for him for Halloween. Taking it from the rack, he ran his fingers over the emblem embossed on the chest, a capital B on its side. He recalled with shame the angry words he'd said to Brian. Even though he'd felt that he'd had cause at the time, he now regretted his harshness. Time and time again they had to ask forgiveness for some mistake they'd made; this was yet another instance. Turning towards Brian, he found himself the object of his husband's studious yet tender gaze.

"I know," Brian said.

"You do? How?"

Brian smiled. "We were made for each other, remember?"

Hanging the costume back on the rack, Justin moved into Brian's arms, head against his chest, arms wrapped around his torso, and hands on his shoulder blades. Gratefully, he kissed his bare skin and was overcome, with wonder, that this man, this beautiful, strong, and miraculous man, was his.

Thank you.

Heels Over Head | Stories